As the penalties in the first half mounted against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 the Internet, never full of conspiracy theories, ever, started the inevitable speculation that game officials wanted Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady to win.
There’s no conspiracy. There’s no Commissioner Roger Goodell hitting a button that connected directly to the cerebral cortex of the refs that caused them to punish the Chiefs. It was none of that. It was a normal NFL problem that’s been one for years.
The inconsistency of NFL officiating is the issue. One week, such as the NFC Championship game between the Buccaneers and Packers, the officials let them basically clobber each other. It was UFC fight in that game.
Then, a week later, the rules seem to change. Things are called much tighter. This is a weekly thing in the NFL and has long been a problem. The issue just gets magnified because it’s the Super Bowl.
Several key first half sequences changed the course of the game and will be discussed for years.
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Interestingly, just how much the officials would allow players to get physical was a pre-game topic. Coach Andy Reid seemed to think the game would be loosely played.
“Yeah, so normally that takes place,” Reid said several days before the game. “Now, the referee that’s working our game, Carl Cheffers, he’s done a couple of our games this year, so he knows us, we know him. And (Fred) Bryan, the umpire, we know him—the back judge, all these guys have worked our games and/or have been at our training camps in years past. I think Bruce (Arians) would tell you the same thing, by the time you get to this one, they know you, they kind of know your players and they’ve watched tape and so on, so they’ve got a pretty good feel on things. But no, I think they let you play within reason. They’re still going to call holdings and do those things, but within reason they’ll let you play.”
Nope. That didn’t happen.
One key penalty came when the Chiefs actually stopped the Buccaneers forcing a field goal try. The Chiefs’ Antonio Hamilton was penalized for being offsides. That gave Tampa Bay a first down and Brady later connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski for the score.
Was Hamilton offsides? Technically, yes. There may have actually been two players offsides. But it’s not unusual for refs to let that go unless it’s wildly flagrant. The replays didn’t show that to be the case.
Later in the first half Kansas City cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s feet tangled with Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans. Was that call legitimate? Again, the problem is consistency. The CBS rules expert, former official Gene Steratore, said the call had to be made. Analyst Tony Romo thought the ball wasn’t catchable.
There’s no question that Evans put on a Golden Globe worthy acting job falling to the ground and, again, in other situations the officials wouldn’t have made that call.
The inconsistency. That’s it. That’s the story.
Brady took advantage of the call and later found Antonio Brown for the score.
After that touchdown, Tyrann Mathieu walked up to Brady and started jawing, and then put a finger in Brady’s face. He was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct but, again, officials usually just separate players and tell them to shut up.
Officiating is often in the eye of the beholder. But there’s no question the game officials called this game unusually tight, and poorly, and it likely stunned both teams.
It shouldn’t have because this is always how NFL officiating goes.
Sometimes good, mostly awful, always inconsistent.