Chiefs coach Andy Reid walked to the microphone Monday afternoon, and as he began addressing some of his team’s issues, he made it clear that his initial takeaway from the Chiefs’ 16-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings had proven to be correct.
Namely, that the Chiefs’ miserable first half — in which they accumulated only 51 total yards — had plenty to do with a lot of self-inflicted damage, which was reflected in the number of penalty yardage they racked up by the break (50).
“I feel the same way after watching the tape — it was a game of two halves,” Reid said. “The first half probably couldn’t have been any worse, offensively, for sure. Fifty-one total yards and 50 yards of penalties — that’s terrible production.”
The Chiefs finished the game with eight penalties and a season-high 95 penalty yards, which was fairly uncharacteristic for a team that had, up until that game, been surprisingly disciplined during its miserable 1-5 start.
According to NFLpenalties.com, which tracks infractions against all 32 teams, the Chiefs have been flagged 36 times for 313 yards, which are both the sixth-fewest totals in the league. Perhaps even more telling, they’ve only been flagged six times per game — the second-lowest total in the league.
It’s not a matter of having player-friendly refs. Chiefs’ opponents have been whistled 48 times, an average of eight times per game and the 11th-most in the league.
But in the first half Sunday, you would have been hard-pressed to imagine that, as the Chiefs were whistled for holding penalties on each of their first three drives. Each penalty came on a different lineman, with center Mitch Morse, left guard Ben Grubbs and left tackle Donald Stephenson taking turns being whistled for an infraction.
What’s more, the Chiefs’ fourth penalty of the half was an offensive pass interference call on receiver Jeremy Maclin, while the fifth was a third-down roughing-the-passer call on cornerback Steven Nelson that extended a Vikings scoring drive that ended with their only touchdown of the day.
So while referee Jerome Boger’s crew has long had a reputation for throwing the flag — they are among the most flag-happy in the league — Reid made no excuses Monday.
“In the first half we were kind of our own enemy with the penalties,” Reid said. “We would do something positive and then go back.”
It could have been even worse, too, as Grubbs’ penalty — which came on third and 12 at the Chiefs’ 2-yard line — could have easily been ruled in the end zone, which would have resulted in a safety that would have given Minnesota a 2-0 lead early in the first quarter.
“You can’t challenge the penalties,” said Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, who clearly wanted the refs to take another look on the play. “I asked all about that stuff, but no.”
Turns out the Vikings didn’t need it, since the Chiefs did a good enough job getting in their own way.
But eliminating penalties isn’t always easy, especially if a team is still playing hard, as Reid maintains his group is.
“I told you all last night or yesterday afternoon that I thought the guys played hard — that, I don’t think, is the issue right now,” Reid said. “But at the same time, with penalties, it comes down to being disciplined within that.”
Especially, he noted, when it comes to offensive holding, which the Chiefs have been whistled for seven times, according to NFLpenalties.com. That is the penalty they’ve been whistled for the most, with defensve holding (five times) coming in second.
(If) it’s a holding call — you can’t tug on jerseys or they’re going to get you — you have to move your feet, you have to work together so you’re not tripping over someone’s foot next to you and you’re going down and you grab a jersey,” Reid said. “These are all things that you can control and work with one another to get better at. You work at it in practice.
“Is there going to be a penalty in a game? There might be. You might have a game where there’s a penalty, but surely not as many as we had (Sunday), and particularly in that first half.”
The Chiefs also had a trio of penalties in the second half, with the most notable being running back Charcandrick West’s fourth-quarter chop block, which turned fourth and 1 at the Vikings’ 14 into third and 16. The Chiefs ended up settling for a field goal.
But while that one did come back to bite them, the other two in the second half did not, though they possibly could have been prevented. Tight end Travis Kelce was whistled for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after he slammed his helmet on the turf following West’s late fumble, while nose tackle Jaye Howard was whistled for a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty in which he delivered a blow to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after the ball came out.
But in the end, it was the offensive penalties, many of which came in the first half, that stuck in Reid’s craw following the game, and will need to be eliminated if they hope to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 4-2, on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
“If you’re playing hard, there are going to be some (penalties),” quarterback Alex Smith said. “But certainly, the amount we had there in the first half in critical times, you have to fix.
“The teams that win in those situations are the teams that execute in those situations … as an offense it doesn’t just takes one guy, all 11 guys have to be disciplined for the plays to work. That’s kind of the nature of offensive football.”