Maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs have turned the corner on penalties.
The team that led the NFL in flags saw its fewest in a game in the victory over Oakland in the regular-season finale.
If this begins a trend, the timing is ideal. As the AFC’s top seed, the Chiefs will sit out this weekend’s wild-card playoff games and open the postseason with a Jan. 12 divisional round game at Arrowhead Stadium.
Last Sunday’s game got off to an ominous start when Demetrius Harris was called for holding on the opening kickoff.
But after that, the Chiefs committed only three more. Four is their lowest total for a game this season. None were on the defensive side.
Head coach Andy Reid said the Chiefs have made an effort to avoid penalties, and for at least one game it paid off.
“A lot of those penalties are fundamentals and techniques,” Reid said. “You have to go back and work on those things … there’s got to be a certain urgency there to get that accomplished. I just thought our guys had a nice focus going in working on that.”
Two of last week’s flags were for taunting after Chiefs’ touchdowns. Tyreek Hill had the first after Damien Williams’ 4-yard touchdown run.
The second belonged to Demarcus Robinson, who backpedaled the final 15 yards into the end zone on his 89-yard reception.
That brought the team’s taunting penalty total to four this season, tops in the NFL.
The Chiefs were penalized 163 times in 2018, 14 more than the next most penalized team, the Denver Broncos.
The 163 total includes off-setting and declined penalties. With those removed, the number drops to 137, still tops in the NFL, as is the 1,153 penalty yards.
There have been some unusual ones. Hill received a taunting flag for flashing the peace sign while scoring a touchdown against the Rams. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was flagged for intentional grounding on a spike against the Chargers.
Breaking down the flags, passing plays give the Chiefs the most trouble. They’re the NFL’s second most penalized team in passing plays with 32 — 16 for defensive holding, 14 for pass interference and two for roughing the passer.
The most penalized team on passing plays? The New Orleans Saints with 33. The Saints are the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
The NFL has emphasized calling illegal contact and other downfield acts this season. From the league in a preseason post: “Illegal contact will be more strictly enforced this season. The rule states that beyond five yards ‘a defender cannot initiate contact with a receiver who is attempting to evade him,’ and that ‘a defender may use his hands or arms only to defend or protect himself against impending contact by a receiver.’ Otherwise, only incidental contact is permitted.”
Reid said he’s noticed the emphasis throughout the league and it’s been up to his players to adjust.
“Contact is an issue down the field, and they’re sticking to it and calling it where in years past they haven’t been as strict with that,” Reid said after the Chiefs lost to the Seahawks in Week 16. “They’ve maintained that throughout the year, so you’ve got to work within that. It’s contact. Contact past that 5-yard mark, they’re hanging with it.
“Now listen, the problem that comes in is that everybody is a little different in how they go about it and what they’ll let you get away with and what they won’t. Bottom line is you can’t have contact downfield. You’ve got to work with that.”
The Chiefs don’t have a player ranked in the NFL’s top 15 in penalties. Tied for 16th are offensive lineman Cameron Erving and cornerback Steven Nelson. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick has been called for eight penalties.
The Chiefs are tied for first in defensive-holding penalties and second in defensive pass interference. They’re second to the Saints in penalties resulting in automatic first downs. Overall, however, the Saints are among the least penalized teams in the NFL, averaging 5.88 per game. The Chiefs average 8.56 per game, making this the most penalized team of the Reid era.
Too many flags contributed to the loss at the Los Angeles Rams, when the Chiefs were called for 13 penalties for 135 yards.
They’ve played their way through the mistakes to own the best record in the AFC. Now playing elimination games, the Chiefs look for last week’s low-penalty habits to continue.