Chiefs lose composure and see red amid a sea of yellow in Super Bowl LV

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) reacts after getting knocked down during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, speaks with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady grabs the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette, right, celebrates with teammate Tom Brady after scoring on a 27-yard touchdown run during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates as he scores a touchdown during the Super Bowl LV game of Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates after a catch for a touchdown during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady grabs the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) celebrates with Devin White (45), Lavonte David (54), Mike Edwards (32) and others after intercepting a pass during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) catches the ball for a touchdown in front of Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and cornerback Carlton Davis (24) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Down judge Sarah Thomas (53) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass while in the grasp of Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead breaks up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs’ Byron Pringle tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Jaydon Mickens during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28) is upended by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Ben Niemann (56) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans hold up signs honoring front line workers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette runs for a touch down against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Fans cheer during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones (27) is stopped short of the goal line on fourth down by Kansas City Chiefs’ Ben Nieman (56), Tanoh Kpassagnon (92) and others during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • ICU nurse manager Suzie Dorner, center, stands next to referee Carl Cheffers (51) at the coin toss with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) prior to the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg/NFL Photos via AP)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. celebrates after an interception against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Steve McLendon pressures Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • The Weeknd performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) looks to throw while being pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Anthony Nelson (98) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates with Mike Evans (13) and quarterback Tom Brady (12) after Gronkowski scored a touchdown during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers players run onto the field before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski catches a 17-yard touchdown pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (38) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu, center, reacts after an interception was called back for a penalty during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) after catching a pass during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski (87) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates after his team scored a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • A Kansas City Chiefs fan watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The Weeknd performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Dancers perform during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) stands during the performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” prior to the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu celebrates a goal line stand against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes under pressure from Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward breaks up a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown catches a pass over Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Former quarterback Peyton Manning motions to the crowd during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Kansas City Chiefs run onto the field before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • H.E.R. performs “America the Beautiful” before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Eric Church performs the national anthem before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Planes fly over the stadium before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Fans cheer during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans cheer on their team during their NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans pose for a picture before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Fans cheer for a news crew prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Fans take a photo before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Randi Martin (mirrored sunglasses), the mother of Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, poses for a photo with members of law enforcement as she arrives at the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs warms up before Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • General view of fans entering the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Fans pose before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan looks on prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • A fan wearing a Michigan jersey of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady watches from the stands before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Fans watch the set of CBS Television before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Seats are filled with cardboard cutout fans before Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 7, 2021. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

  • Fans arrive at Raymond James Stadium before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans sit in the stands among cardboard cutouts before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • Security guards stand at an entrance to the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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Offsides. Unnecessary roughness. Unsportsmanlike conduct. Pass interference. And holding. Lots of holding.

All those penalties were too much even for Patrick Mahomes to overcome: Good as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were Sunday — worthy champions, certainly — the Kansas City Chiefs put on a textbook display of how not to perform in a Super Bowl.

By halftime, the defending champs had amassed more penalties (8) than points (6) — and more frustration than hope. It was an undisciplined, uncharacteristic and somewhat unbelievable loss of composure that set the stage for a 31-9 drubbing at the hands of the Bucs that very few saw coming.

Kansas City’s 95 penalty yards in the first half were the most by any team in the first half of any of the 269 regular-season and playoff games this season. They were one more yard than Kansas City had racked up in any single game all year. The Chiefs only committed three penalties in the second half to finish the game with 11 for 120 yards. It hardly counted as progress.

“It was uncharacteristic, and it was too bad it happened today,” coach Andy Reid said.

The team that ran like a classy, unstoppable machine through one championship season, and over 16 more wins en route to their second straight title game, imploded on itself. The Chiefs got too handsy in a vain attempt to cover Tampa Bay’s receivers, too jumpy on the line of scrimmage, too chippy when things didn’t go their way.

Each one of the eight first-half penalties hurt in its own way, none more than the two pass interference calls over the span of three plays that led to a touchdown and a 21-6 Bucs lead right before halftime. The drive started at the Tampa 29 with 1:01 left. Reid burned two timeouts, after two short Bucs gains, thinking the Chiefs might get the ball back.

They didn’t.

The face of all this Kansas City frustration: It was defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who, one play after a 34-yard pass interference call that put the Bucs in business, got hit with an interference call of his own that gave Tampa Bay the ball at the KC 1. After the touchdown on the next play, Mathieu got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for wagging a finger in Brady’s face.

No wonder he was frustrated. A few minutes earlier, Mathieu also sparred with Brady after his interception off a deflected ball was nullified by — what else — a defensive holding call. It was a marginal call that went against Charvarius Ward — lots of jockeying, and the sort of hand-to-hand combat that went unflagged through much of the playoffs.

It was only 7-3 at the time. And so, Mathieu said something to Brady. Brady didn’t back down. Brady came into the game with six Super Bowls titles, in part because he wins most of those mind games.

Now, he has seven.

“I’d never really seen that side of Tom Brady, but whatever. No comment. It’s over with,” Mathieu said.

Mahomes stayed stuck on one title. Flustered all day and hurried by a Bucs defense that apparently didn’t get the message about KC, he completed 26 of 49 passes, virtually all of them hurried, for 270 yards and two interceptions. It didn’t help that both starting tackles who had protected him all season, Mitchell Schwartz and Pro Bowler Eric Fisher, were out with injuries.

“A bad day to have a bad day,” Reid said. “But I’m not going to lay it on the offensive line. It took all of us.”

At least a half-dozen of Mahomes’ passes hit receivers in the hands but got dropped.

They weren’t the only ones with butterfingers.

With the Chiefs trailing 7-3 in the second quarter, lightly used punter Tommy Townsend dropped a perfect snap and had to scoop up the ball and rush the kick. It was a beauty that pinned Tampa back on its 30. But it was nullified by a holding call — a protector had to yank down an oncoming rusher to keep the late-off-the-foot kick from being blocked.

On the replay of fourth down, Townsend shanked a 29-yard kick and the Bucs took over on Kansas City’s 38. A penalty worth 10 years really cost the Chiefs 32.

Then, the flags started flying.

The first one on the ensuing drive nullified Mathieu’s interception.

The next was a five-yard penalty on 4th-and-5 — flag thrown by Sarah Thomas, the first female official to work a Super Bowl — that gave Tampa Bay a first down instead of settling for a field goal.

On the next play, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for what looked like the second touchdown connection between the old Patriots teammates, who never looked better in the pewter-and-red that the Bucs wear. But there was a flag on the ground.

“Holding. Defense, number 34,” referee Carl Cheffers called out on the mic. That penalty was declined. It was 14-6 Bucs. Amid that sea of yellow, the Chiefs were seeing red.

“Only referees can call the penalties, and penalties affect the game 1000 percent,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said. “So, what can I say? We got a lot of penalties called on us today.”

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Tom Brady and Buccaneers dominate Chiefs 31-9 in Super Bowl LV

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady grabs the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette, right, celebrates with teammate Tom Brady after scoring on a 27-yard touchdown run during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski celebrates as he scores a touchdown during the Super Bowl LV game of Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) reacts after getting knocked down during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates after a catch for a touchdown during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, speaks with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady grabs the Vince Lombardi trophy after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9 to win the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) celebrates with Devin White (45), Lavonte David (54), Mike Edwards (32) and others after intercepting a pass during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (81) catches the ball for a touchdown in front of Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and cornerback Carlton Davis (24) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Down judge Sarah Thomas (53) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass while in the grasp of Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead breaks up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs’ Byron Pringle tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Jaydon Mickens during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28) is upended by Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Ben Niemann (56) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans hold up signs honoring front line workers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette runs for a touch down against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Fans cheer during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones (27) is stopped short of the goal line on fourth down by Kansas City Chiefs’ Ben Nieman (56), Tanoh Kpassagnon (92) and others during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • ICU nurse manager Suzie Dorner, center, stands next to referee Carl Cheffers (51) at the coin toss with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) prior to the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg/NFL Photos via AP)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. celebrates after an interception against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers nose tackle Steve McLendon pressures Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • The Weeknd performs during the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) looks to throw while being pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Anthony Nelson (98) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates with Mike Evans (13) and quarterback Tom Brady (12) after Gronkowski scored a touchdown during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers players run onto the field before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski catches a 17-yard touchdown pass in front of Kansas City Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (38) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu, center, reacts after an interception was called back for a penalty during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) after catching a pass during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) breaks up a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski (87) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady celebrates after his team scored a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • A Kansas City Chiefs fan watches play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The Weeknd performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Dancers perform during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) stands during the performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” prior to the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (Ben Liebenberg via AP)

  • Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu celebrates a goal line stand against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passes under pressure from Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward breaks up a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown catches a pass over Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Former quarterback Peyton Manning motions to the crowd during the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • The Kansas City Chiefs run onto the field before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • H.E.R. performs “America the Beautiful” before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • Eric Church performs the national anthem before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Planes fly over the stadium before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Fans cheer during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans cheer on their team during their NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans pose for a picture before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Fans cheer for a news crew prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Fans take a photo before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

  • Randi Martin (mirrored sunglasses), the mother of Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, poses for a photo with members of law enforcement as she arrives at the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs warms up before Super Bowl LV against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

  • General view of fans entering the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • Fans pose before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan looks on prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • A fan wearing a Michigan jersey of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady watches from the stands before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

  • Fans watch the set of CBS Television before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Seats are filled with cardboard cutout fans before Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 7, 2021. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

  • Fans arrive at Raymond James Stadium before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

  • Fans sit in the stands among cardboard cutouts before Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

  • Security guards stand at an entrance to the stadium prior to Super Bowl LV when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

  • A Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady made his seventh Super Bowl title look familiar – despite moving south to a new team and conference during a pandemic.

Brady threw two touchdown passes to old friend Rob Gronkowski and one to good pal Antonio Brown, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City 31-9 on their home field in Super Bowl 55 on Sunday.

The GOAT earned his fifth Super Bowl MVP award and extended his Super Bowl titles’ record in his 10th appearance, his first without Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The 43-year-old Brady broke his own mark for oldest player to win a Super Bowl and joined Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to win one with multiple franchises.

“I’m not making any comparisons,” Brady said. “Experiencing it with this group of guys is amazing.”

Stunningly, it was also easier than any of his previous Super Bowl victories, which came by an average margin of five points. This was also the first time Mahomes lost by double digits in his four-year career.

The Buccaneers (15-5) won their second NFL title and first in 18 years while becoming the first team to play the big game at home, capping an unusual and challenging season played through the novel coronavirus.

They won three road games as a wild-card team to reach the Super Bowl, and joined the NHL’s Lightning as a 2020 season champion. The Rays also went to the World Series but lost to the Dodgers.

“I’m so proud of all these guys,” Brady said. “We had a rough November but we came together at the right time. We knew this was gonna happen. We played our best game of the year.”

Tampa’s victory prevented Mahomes and the Chiefs (16-3) from becoming the first repeat champions since Brady’s Patriots did it in 2003-04.

The NFL completed its 269-game season on time without any cancellations, a remarkable accomplishment that required nearly 1 million COVID-19 tests for players and team personnel.

Due to the virus, only 25,000 mask-wearing fans were allowed in, including approximately 7,500 vaccinated health care workers who were given free tickets by the NFL. About 30,000 cardboard cutouts made the stadium look full.

Bruce Arians became the oldest coach at age 68 to win the Super Bowl. His mom, 95-year-old Kay Arians, witnessed it in person. Brady, Gronk and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles helped Arians get that Vince Lombardi Trophy.

“This really belongs to the coaching staff and our players. I didn’t do a damn thing,” Arians said after he was handed the trophy.

Bowles devised a masterful plan to frustrate Mahomes and shut down the Chiefs, the complete opposite of Kansas City’s 27-24 win in Tampa in Week 12, when the Chiefs jumped to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Tyreek Hill had 269 yards receiving and three TDs in that one. He was held to 73 yards on seven catches.

After the Chiefs took a 3-0 early lead, it was all Brady and the Bucs.

Brady accomplished a career-first when he tossed an 8-yard TD pass to Gronkowksi to give the Buccaneers a 7-3 lead with 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Brady’s nine Super Bowl teams in New England produced just three points total in the first quarter. Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to play with his buddy, caught his 13th and 14th postseason TDs from Brady. That broke the record they shared with Jerry Rice and Joe Montana, who combined for 12.

Despite playing at home, the Buccaneers weren’t allowed to fire the cannons from their famed pirate ship after touchdowns and big plays. They did it soon after the clock expired as red, white and black confetti fell onto the field.

Fans still enjoyed the thud of Gronk’s thunderous spike after his first score.

Tampa missed an opportunity to extend the lead when Brady’s 2-yard pass to offensive lineman Joe Haeg was knocked out of his hands by Anthony Hitchens in the end zone. Ronald Jones was stopped short on consecutive carries as Arians stuck to his “No risk it, no biscuit” philosophy and went on fourth down.

But the Chiefs didn’t gain any momentum off the stop. Instead, they made one costly mistake after another.First, All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce dropped a pass that would’ve been a big gain on third down. Then punter Tommy Townsend shanked a 29-yarder after a penalty forced him to kick again. The Bucs started at Kansas City’s 38 instead of their 27.

A holding call on Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward negated an interception by All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu. Kansas City’s defense held but an offside penalty during Ryan Succop’s successful field goal gave the Buccaneers a first down. Sarah Thomas, the first woman official in a Super Bowl, threw that flag.

Brady needed one play, firing a strike to Gronkowski for a 17-yard TD and a 14-3 lead. Gronk hesitated before spiking the ball, waiting to make sure the flag on the play was again against the Chiefs.

Mahomes drove the offense for a 34-yard field goal by Harrison Butker that cut it to 14-6, but Kansas City’s defense fell apart in the final minute of the first half — allowing 42 yards on two pass interference penalties. One against Mathieu in the end zone set up Brady’s TD pass to Brown for a 21-6 halftime lead.

It was Brady who convinced his new team to give Brown a chance after the troubled former All-Pro came off suspension. His TD toss to Brown was his 50th of the season, including 10 in the postseason.

Mathieu took an unsportsmanlike penalty after the TD pass for getting into it with Brady as he ran to the sideline.

Leonard Fournette, like Brown an in-season addition, ran 27 yards untouched for a touchdown in the third quarter, extending Tampa’s lead to 28-9. Arians pumped his fist after that score and pointed toward offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who made the call.

Succop’s 52-yard field goal increased the lead to 31-9.

Last year, Mahomes rallied the Chiefs from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against San Francisco and earned MVP honors in leading Kansas City to its first NFL championship in a half-century. But Tampa’s pass rush gave him no chance in this one.

Shaq Barrett had one of three sacks on Mahomes, who spent most of the game trying to escape Jason Pierre-Paul, William Gholston and a relentless group.

Brady was 6-3 in Super Bowls during 20 seasons in New England before he signed a $50 million, two-year contract with Tampa in March. The Buccaneers hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2007 and hadn’t won a postseason game since Jon Gruden led Tampa over Oakland in Super Bowl 37.

Despite the home-field advantage, it wasn’t until Brady hooked up with Gronkowski for a 21-6 lead that fans chanted: “Let’s Go Bucs!” They were roaring in the fourth quarter.

There were plenty of red-clad Chiefs fans doing the tomahawk chop for part of the first half until the Bucs made it a rout.

Brady avenged his loss against Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who held the same position for the Giants when New York stifled the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, preventing New England from a perfect season.

The warmer climate suited Brady perfectly. He passed Michael Jordan for more championships and it doesn’t seem he’s ready to slow down. He already said he might play past age 45.

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Alexander: Rams cut their losses quickly and decisively in swap of QBs

You can’t say the Rams don’t move swiftly and decisively.

As for effectively? We’ll see.

Two summers ago, coming off a Super Bowl appearance – albeit an offensively flaccid one against the Patriots – they gave Jared Goff a huge contract extension, four years, $134 million all told and a little over $110 million of that guaranteed.

Saturday night, having judged that the offense under Goff likely wasn’t going to get appreciably better, they cut their losses. Goff, plus a third-round pick in 2021 and first-rounders in 2022 and ’23, will go to Detroit for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and consider that just minutes after the trade SportsBetting.com dropped the Rams’ odds in 2022 for Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood from 18-1 to 10-1, behind only Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Betting lines, of course, are hardly a scientific method of determining whether a trade was a good one. But they do reflect or at least predict public sentiment, and it was pretty obvious by the latter part of the season that Rams fans had Goff fatigue.

The main takeaway here is that the Rams front office gets it. Southern California adores winners and shuns losers. And in a town that has already celebrated two championships in the last five months, even the most expensive stadium in North America will not be enough to hold L.A. fans’ interest when they’re finally allowed in unless the product matches the opulence.

But is this decisiveness or desperation? Obviously the Rams aren’t afraid to change course, as the second bombshell in two offseasons has shown. But they painted themselves into a corner by handing Goff that huge contract following the Super Bowl year. And as we suggested was likely earlier in the week  they had to add assets in order to find a taker.

Probably not coincindentally, that turned out to be new Lions GM Brad Holmes, whose last gig was as the Rams’ director of college scouting. In that role he scouted Goff at Cal, so I think we can assume he knows what he’s getting.

Or at least he knows his former boss isn’t afraid to throw around draft picks. If you listen closely you can hear echoes of George Allen’s “The future is now” philosophy. The Rams’ last first round choice was Goff in 2016 with the No. 1 pick. Their next first-rounder? Right now it’ll be in the 2024 draft, but stay tuned.

Anyway, two words for those who would treat those first-round picks like gold: Cam Akers, a second-rounder who could be a star.  And two more words: Jalen Ramsey, the haul for two of those first-rounders and maybe the best shutdown corner in the NFL.

Will this deal be worth it?

Goff is 26, while Stafford turns 33 in a week. He was the 2009 No. 1 pick out of Georgia, and in 12 NFL seasons he has averaged 273.4 passing yards and 23.6 completions per game, both No. 4 on the all-time lists. He has a strong arm, and he’s tough, but he’s been banged up and beat up over the years while playing for a forlorn franchise that has reached the postseason three times in his 12 seasons, the last in 2016. His teams have been in the league’s top 10 in scoring twice, and in one of those (2017) the Lions missed the playoffs.

How much of that has been on the quarterback, and how much of that on the team he has had around him?

When general manager Les Snead held his end-of-season session with the media last Tuesday, we should have anticipated this was coming. Over and over he was asked about Goff, and the way he parried those questions made it clear that something was up. When it’s said that someone is the quarterback “right now,” you might as well put it in big neon letters that his days are numbered.

Snead also made it clear that offensive improvement was a priority: “Being more explosive, scoring more points, not turning the ball over as much.” That’s fairly obvious. But here we should point out that in 2020 Goff threw for 20 touchdowns but was responsible for 17 turnovers (13 interceptions, four lost fumbles). Stafford, with an even leakier offensive line, threw for 26 touchdowns and coughed it up 11 times (10 picks, one lost fumble).

Stafford was on his way to perhaps his best season in 2019 (19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a career best 106.0 quarterback rating after eight games) before fracturing bones in his back. He regressed somewhat in 2020, but played with injuries to his ribs, ankle and throwing hand and also had little help from a running game that was 30th in the league. That shouldn’t be a problem in L.A. (see: Cam Akers).

This is not a move for three or five years down the road. The Rams feel the urgency of a big market team, as they should. If it doesn’t work, all the urgency in the world might not be enough a few years from now.

In the meantime, Stafford will now be reunited with his high school teammate from Dallas Highland Park, a fellow named Clayton Kershaw.

Maybe Kersh will let Stafford rub his World Series ring for luck.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

 

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First look at the NFL playoffs schedule

The schedule for the NFL playoffs was released Sunday night, Jan. 3.

(All Times PST)

Wild-card playoffs

Saturday, Jan. 9

Indianapolis at Buffalo, 10:05 a.m.

Rams at Seattle, 1:40 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Washington, 5:15 p.m.

Sunday, Jan. 10

Baltimore at Tennessee, 10:05 a.m.

Chicago at New Orleans, 1:40 p.m.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 5:15 p.m.

Divisional Playoffs

 

Saturday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Jan. 17

NFC lowest seed remaining at Green Bay

AFC lowest seed remaining at Kansas City

TBD vs. TBD

TBD vs. TBD

 

Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 24

 

Super Bowl

At Tampa, Fla.

Sunday, Feb. 7, 3:30 p.m.

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Rams don’t want to see a Carson rerun when they play Seahawks

INGLEWOOD — The Rams’ first game against the Seattle Seahawks this season produced one of their best moments of the year, a solid bounce-back win that gave them life in the NFC West race.

Getting the same result in the same desperate circumstances when the teams play again Sunday in Seattle won’t be easy, in part because these aren’t the same Seahawks.

In November, running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were both injured and missing from the Seahawks’ offense. What the Rams’ defense did in a 23-16 victory, sacking Russell Wilson six times and shutting down DK Metcalf, was impressive anyway. But they know it will take more to repeat that performance now.

Carson and Hyde are healthy after foot and hamstring injuries, while third running back Rashaad Penny is back from a knee injury, and the Seahawks have won four out of five games after losing three out of four.

“You’d be surprised what five weeks can do for a team from a personnel standpoint,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said this week.

“Because of the run game, I think that they’re a much more complete offense than when we first faced them and they’re definitely hitting their stride.”

The Seahawks’ offense begins with Wilson, who’s on his way to career highs in passing yards and touchdowns throwing to Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

The Rams held Wilson to his worst game of the season in Week 10 at SoFi Stadium. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey limited Metcalf to two catches for 28 yards on a season-low four targets. Seahawks running backs managed 51 yards in the team’s third game without Carson and Hyde.

That win following a sloppy loss at Miami lifted the Rams into a first-place tie with Seattle and Arizona, which led on a tiebreaker.

Now, as the Rams try to right the ship after losing to the Jets, Carson and Co. make their task tougher.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a balanced attack, and there was a portion of the schedule in there when we lost three running backs at the same time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “We didn’t have the same rhythm.”

With the running game intact again, Carroll said, “This is as good as we’ve been all year.”

In Carson’s four seasons in Seattle, including 2,381 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in 2018-19, the Seahawks are 30-14 when he’s playing and 11-10 when he isn’t.

Carson is running for 5.0 yards per carry, which would be a career high over a full season and ranks eighth in the NFL this year.

The Rams are 3-5 this year when opponents average for 4.5 or more per carry.

That’s a statistical benchmark to watch Sunday in a game that shapes up as a showdown between the Rams’ defense (No. 1 in yards allowed per game and per play, No. 1 against the pass, No. 2 against the run) and the Seahawks’ offense (No. 6 in yards per play, No. 5 in passer rating, No. 4 in yards per run).

“It gives them another dynamic. That’s going to be something we needed to be really ready to defend,” Ramsey said before practice Thursday.

The Rams (9-5) can clinch a playoff spot Sunday with a win or tie against Seattle (10-4), a Chicago loss or tie at Jacksonville or an Arizona win or tie against San Francisco. They can go back into first place in the NFC West by beating Seattle, giving themselves a chance to wrap up the division title by beating Arizona or seeing Seattle lose at San Francisco in the season’s final week.

Carson’s and Hyde’s return will make that harder.

Rams coach Sean McVay calls Carson, 26, a seventh-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, “one of the more underrated players in this league.” McVay has seen Carson at his best, rushing for 116 and 118 yards in L.A.’s past two games at Seattle.

“Getting those runners back and how they’ve run the football,” McVay said, “has definitely made them even more of a challenge than they already were as a great offense.”

NOTES

The Rams practiced at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Thursday afternoon, the third time they’ve done that during the season, because strong wind was forecast at their facility in Thousand Oaks. The team will practice on Christmas day, but will start work later than usual to allow players and coaches to spend the morning with their families. … Right tackle Rob Havenstein practiced and is “ready to roll” for Sunday after being limited Wednesday by a neck injury suffered in the loss to the Jets. … Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the third Rams player to earn Pro Bowl selections in his first seven seasons, joining defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (who did it in his first 14) and linebacker Les Richter (eight), the Rams said, quoting the sports data company Sportradar.

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Steelers’ slide continues with costly loss to Bengals

  • The Bengals’ Darius Phillips, left, breaks up a pass intended for the Steelers’ Diontae Johnson during the first half of Monday’s game in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Cincinnati Bengals’ Giovani Bernard (25) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley (5) throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor reacts in the first half during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Joe Haden (23) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) break up a pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Boyd (83) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Cincinnati Bengals’ Mackensie Alexander (21) celebrates an interception during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson (18) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals’ Darius Phillips (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Cincinnati Bengals’ Vonn Bell (24) and Jordan Evans (50) look to recover a fumble by Pittsburgh Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Cincinnati Bengals’ Carl Lawson (58) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Benny Snell (24) runs past a Cincinnati Bengals defender during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Avery Williamson #51 and Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Samaje Perine #34 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Benny Snell (24) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals’ Mackensie Alexander (21) and Germaine Pratt (57) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Benny Snell (24) goes in for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Alex Erickson #12 of the Cincinnati Bengals returns a punt during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Samaje Perine #34 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes the ball during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Cincinnati Bengals players celebrates following a forced fumble by Vonn Bell #24 during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Giovani Bernard #25 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes the ball past Marcus Allen #27 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Jessie Bates #30 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles Benny Snell #24 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts a pass during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown past Darius Phillips #23 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catches a touchdown past Darius Phillips #23 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Ryan Finley #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals attempts a pass during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Tee Higgins #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes a reception past Minkah Fitzpatrick #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Chase Claypool (11) runs after a reception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Benny Snell (24) is chased by Cincinnati Bengals’ Carl Lawson (58) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Ryan Finley #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes the ball during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Ryan Finley #5 of the Cincinnati Bengals rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Finley reacts after running for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Ryan Finley #5 and Fred Johnson #74 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrate following a first down run during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Pittsburgh Steelers fans look on in the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Sam Hubbard #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals blocks a pass during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson (18) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals’ Darius Phillips (23) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • Cincinnati Bengals cornerback William Jackson (22) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (21) react in the second half during an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

  • Cincinnati Bengals’ Mackensie Alexander (21) and William Jackson (22) celebrate after Pittsburgh Steelers turned the ball over on downs during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: Fred Johnson #74 of the Cincinnati Bengals shakes hands with Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers after a game at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 21: A Cincinnati Bengals fan displays a sign following a game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 21, 2020 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

  • Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward walks off the field after a 27-17 loss to the Bengals on Monday night in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

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CINCINNATI — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ December swoon is looking more like a collapse.

The Steelers lost their third in a row – getting thumped, 27-17, by the last-place Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night – after ripping off 11 consecutive wins to start the season. They couldn’t generate any offense early, and the opportunistic Bengals took advantage of their mistakes.

Assured of a playoff berth, the Steelers (11-3) could have wrapped up the AFC North with a win but instead turned the ball over three times and allowed Cincinnati to build a 17-0 halftime lead.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not a good football team right now.”

Three weeks ago, the Steelers were on track for the top overall seed in the AFC, but now they could end up as a wild card. Pittsburgh has tough matchups remaining against Indianapolis (10-4) and division rival Cleveland (10-4).

Pittsburgh averaged 29.8 points during its first 10 games and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, back from an elbow injury that cost him most of 2019, looked like an MVP candidate. But the Steelers struggled to an uninspired 19-14 victory over a COVID-19-decimated Baltimore Ravens team on Dec. 2 and haven’t topped 20 points in a game since.

Prior to Monday’s game, they had said a stretch of three games in 12 days caused by COVID-19-related scheduling issues contributed to their first two losses. They believed this week was a chance to reclaim their trademark physicality after a much-needed full week of preparation.

“High frustration,” said the 38-year-old Roethlisberger, who had 19 passing yards in the first half and was picked off by Mackensie Alexander, setting up a touchdown. He finished 20 for 38 for 170 yards.

The drops that plagued his receivers in recent games weren’t the problem. Roethlisberger’s throws just weren’t on the mark.

“I’m not consistent enough, which affects the offense because the ball is in my hand every play,” said Roethlisberger, who saw several of his first-half passes broken up by defenders. “I just felt like they were taking away some of the underneath stuff, so we wanted to take some shots down the field and the disconnect was me not making it happen.”

For the first time in 20 seasons – including the playoffs – the Steelers went three-and-out on their first five possessions, including two fumbles that led to 10 points for the Bengals.

“That was not good enough for us,” Tomlin said. “The performance speaks for itself. We turned the ball over at the early portions of the game. You can’t do that. You can’t do that vs. anybody. We gave them a short field three times in the first half or so, and so it was an uphill battle the rest of the way because of that.”

Cincinnati (3-10-1) snapped a streak of 11 consecutive losses to Pittsburgh in most unlikely fashion, with Ryan Finley at quarterback. The second-year player, starting in place of injured No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow, completed seven passes for 89 yards, but his touchdown run early in the fourth quarter all but sealed it for the Bengals.

The injury-plagued Bengals had lost five straight, averaging 10 points per game and rarely looking competitive, since Burrow led them to a 31-20 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 1.

“We gave everybody a game ball today,” said Coach Zac Taylor, now 5-24-1 in his two seasons. “Everyone deserves to cherish this night. We needed a big divisional win against a team we’ve struggled against. It was fun to see the players celebrate and have fun.”

UPSET WEEKEND

Pittsburgh was a 14½-point favorite, and the Rams were favored by 17 before losing to the previously winless New York Jets on Sunday. It was the first time since the 1970s that two teams favored by 14 points or more lost on the same weekend. With the loss, the Steelers matched their largest upset defeat since 1966.

PACED BY BERNARD

Veteran running back Giovani Bernard, who has been starting in place of the injured Joe Mixon, had 25 carries for 83 yards as the Bengals stuck to a ground-heavy approach and wore down a Steelers defense playing with significant injuries to its inside linebackers. Bernard ran for a touchdown and caught a pass from Finley for another score. Both touchdowns came after the Bengals forced turnovers.

“Obviously it feels good to win, but it amplifies everything because of what’s happened this season,” Bernard said. “To be able to beat a team like that. We know they’re a good team, they know they’re a good team, but when you play those divisional games, the records don’t matter. It’s about who wants it more.”

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

The Steelers rallied within 17-10 in the second half before Finley ran untouched around the left side for a 23-yard touchdown with 11:21 left in the game to push the lead back to 14.

Pittsburgh scored again on a plunge by Benny Snell after getting a pass-interference call in the end zone on fourth-and-4 from the Cincinnati 12.

The Steelers got the ball back with 2:17 left at their own 24 but four incomplete passes by Roethlisberger all but finished it. Austin Seibert kicked a 33-yard field goal with 12 seconds left for the final margin.

MAKING THE TRIP

There were more Terrible Towels than Bengals jerseys in Paul Brown Stadium, where the limited crowd was announced at 10,249.

QUARTERBACK SHUFFLE

Finley was the third starting quarterback for the Bengals this season. Burrow suffered his season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22 and Brandon Allen started the next three games, all losses. Allen suffered a knee injury in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 13.

WATT’S UP

With a first-quarter sack, Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt joined Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas as the only players to record at least 13 sacks in three of their first four seasons.

INJURIES

Steelers: Fullback Derek Watt went to the locker room with a possible concussion in the first quarter and was ruled out. Tight end Eric Ebron suffered a back injury in the second quarter and did not return.

Bengals: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati’s top receiver, suffered a concussion in the first quarter.

UP NEXT

The Steelers host Indianapolis on Sunday.

The Bengals visit Houston on Sunday.

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Giants gamble against explosive Browns and come up a loser

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The way the Cleveland Browns had been scoring, coach Joe Judge felt the New York Giants were going to need points to beat Baker Mayfield and company.

So they gambled despite using a backup quarterback and play caller and came up short in a 20-6 loss to the red-hot Browns on Sunday night.

It not only cost them a game and a chance to go back into first place in the weak NFC East, the Giants (5-9) need help to make the playoff for the first time since 2016 with two games left in the regular season.

“That’s the way you’ve got to go and play it sometimes,” Judge said after the Giants stayed a game behind first-place Washington (6-8). “All right. But we’ve got to go ahead and make the decision to be aggressive. Obviously, their team scored a lot of points throughout the year. It’s an explosive offense and they’ve done a very good job of moving it. They’ve been on a hot streak lately. We knew coming in what kind of team they were, and we had to call a game a certain way.”

The Giants got into the red zone on their first three possessions with Colt McCoy starting at quarterback instead of the injured Daniel Jones and former Browns coach Freddie Kitchens calling plays on offensive with coordinator Jason Garrett sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19.

They came away with three points. It was par for a team that has now scored 13 points in its last two games.

On the opening drive of the game, the Giants got to the Browns 8. On fourth down and 5, Judge sent out his field goal team and used a trick play. Before the snap, the line and kicker Graham Gano shifted, leaving center Nick Gates eligible. Holder and punter Riley Dixon took the snap in the weird formation but his pass to a well covered Gates in the middle of the end zone fell incomplete.

Judge thought it was a well designed fake. The team had practiced it throughout the year.

“I thought the timing was right and you ought to go ahead, just roll the dice sometimes to take a chance,” Judge said. “You hit that thing and everyone is saying ‘You’re the guru.’ You don’t and everyone wants to second guess the decision.”

A field goal by Gano gave New York a 3-0 lead on the second series, but the Browns took the lead on a 2-yard pass from Mayfield to Austin Hooper.

The Giants drove 68 yards on their next series and had a fourth-and-2 at the Browns 6. Instead of closed the deficit to a point, Judge elected to go for a first down and Wayne Gallman came up a yard short.

Mayfield then drove the Browns 95 yards in 10 plays, capping the march with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry for a 13-3 lead. The extra point hit the upright.

The Giants never threatened again in losing their second straight.

McCoy, who was 19 of 31 for 221 yards, said there was no problem working with Kitchens.

“We just didn’t finish drives,” McCoy said. “In the first half I felt like we didn’t even punt. So we were moving the ball. We just shot ourselves in the foot. You know, we went for it on fourth down and in tight came up a half short. Those are huge plays in a game like this that we’ve got to make if we want to go for it on fourth down with a fake field goal. We’ve got to convert it if we want to win football games.”

The Giants will play Baltimore (9-5) next weekend and close the regular season at home against Dallas (5-9).

Defensive back Logan Ryan is not discouraged, especially after seeing the Giants post a recent four-game winning streak after a 1-7 start.

“We were counted out, left for dead and we won some games surprised some people who didn’t believe it, us and then everyone is believing in us,” Ryan said. “Now, people don’t believe again. So it doesn’t matter. And honestly, it doesn’t matter. W are who we are. And we got two games in front of us where we going to go out there and and win.”

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Justin Herbert’s TD plunge gives Chargers OT victory over Raiders

  • Raiders cornerback Keisean Nixon (22) tackles Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton after Guyton made a 53-yard catch in overtime to set up the decisive touchdown in Thursday night’s game in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers looks to pass during the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Center Dan Feeney #66 of the Los Angeles Chargers readies at the line of scrimmage during the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders runs the ball as defensive tackle Jerry Tillery #99 of the Los Angeles Chargers gives chase during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders holds his leg while trying to get rid of the ball during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs against Los Angeles Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (36) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Daryl Worley #36 of the Las Vegas Raiders reacts after a stop during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders dives into the end zone for a touchdown as outside linebacker Kenneth Murray #56 and outside linebacker Nick Vigil #59 of the Los Angeles Chargers defend during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders dives into the end zone for a touchdown as outside linebacker Kenneth Murray #56 of the Los Angeles Chargers defends during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders dives into the end zone for a touchdown as outside linebacker Kenneth Murray #56 of the Los Angeles Chargers defends during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Zay Jones #12 of the Las Vegas Raiders congratulates quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 on his touchdown during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders carries the ball as defensive tackle Jerry Tillery #99 of the Los Angeles Chargers defends during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders runs the ball during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders is tackled by defensive end Joey Bosa #97 and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu #42 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Center Dan Feeney #66 of the Los Angeles Chargers spikes the ball after teammate Kalen Ballage #31 scored a touchdown during the second half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Head coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers looks on during the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders dives into the end zone for touchdown during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders dives into the end zone for touchdown during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders scrambles against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with Justin Herbert #10 after scoring a 10 yard touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates after scoring a 10 yard touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Las Vegas Raiders leaves the field with a trainer during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates after scoring a 10 yard touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers scores a 10 yard touchdown against Erik Harris #25 and Keisean Nixon #22 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow #13 of the Las Vegas Raiders talks with a trainer during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Tight end Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders makes a first down reception during the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders rushes for a first down as Jaylen Watkins #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers defends during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers throws a pass during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders hands the ball off to Josh Jacobs #28 during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Jalen Guyton #15 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs with the ball against Trayvon Mullen #27 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Head coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers looks on during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers throws a pass during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks to throw a pass during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Darren Waller #83 of the Las Vegas Raiders catches a 35 yard pass to score a touchdown against Michael Davis #43 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the second quarter in the game at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) celebrates after tight end Darren Waller (83) scored a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders scrambles during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Kicker Mike Badgley #4 kicks a field goal as punter Ty Long #1 of the Los Angeles Chargers placeholds during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders is tackled by outside linebacker Kenneth Murray #56 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Tyron Johnson #83 of the Los Angeles Chargers catches a touchdown pass during the first half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Tyron Johnson #83 of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates scoring a touchdown as Daryl Worley #36 of the Las Vegas Raiders looks on during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Tyron Johnson #83 of the Los Angeles Chargers catches a touchdown pass as Daryl Worley #36 of the Las Vegas Raiders defends during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers looks to pass during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Jalen Guyton #15 of the Los Angeles Chargers trips after rushing the ball during the first half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Kalen Ballage #31 of the Los Angeles Chargers is tackled by Daryl Worley #36 and free safety Lamarcus Joyner #29 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers looks to pass during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders reacts after a first down scramble during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders scrambles for a first down as cornerback Michael Davis #43 and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu #42 of the Los Angeles Chargers defend during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders runs the ball during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn stands on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver K.J. Hill #84 of the Los Angeles Chargers carries the ball on a punt return as safety Dallin Leavitt #32 of the Las Vegas Raiders defends during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers makes a reception as free safety Erik Harris #25 of the Las Vegas Raiders defends during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers passes the ball during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Josh Jacobs #28 of the Las Vegas Raiders runs the ball during the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Tight end Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers scores a touchdown during the first half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Tyron Johnson #83 of the Los Angeles Chargers carries the ball as cornerback Trayvon Mullen #27 of the Las Vegas Raiders defends during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Tight end Hunter Henry #86 of the Los Angeles Chargers makes a first down reception during the first half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Running back Austin Ekeler #30 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs the ball during the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers pitches the ball to avoid a sack from defensive end Maxx Crosby #98 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Chairman and owner Dean Spanos of the Los Angeles Chargers points during warmups before the game against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) runs against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen (27) commits a pass interference on Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn stands on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler #30 rushes during the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn speaks with players during the second half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler #30 rushes during the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) tosses the ball against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) dives into the end zone for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu #42 hits Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 during the third quarter in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) runs against Los Angeles Chargers strong safety Rayshawn Jenkins (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton (15) celebrates after wide receiver Tyron Johnson (83) scored a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Tyron Johnson (83) scores a touchdown against Las Vegas Raiders’ Daryl Worley during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) runs against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs #28 rushes during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen (27) tackles Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams (81) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Cornerback Chris Harris #25 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs the ball after making an interception late in the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Cornerback Chris Harris #25 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts after intercepting the ball late in the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers is sacked by Daryl Worley #36 and defensive tackle Kendal Vickers #91 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the second half at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Kicker Mike Badgley #4 of the Los Angeles Chargers watches as he misses a 47-yard field goal attempt during the second half against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 rushes in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs #28 rushes in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Kicker Daniel Carlson #2 of the Las Vegas Raiders kicks a field goal during overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Wide receiver Jalen Guyton #15 of the Los Angeles Chargers makes a first down reception during overtime against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Keisean Nixon (22) tackles Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton (15) after Guyton made a catch in overtime of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Jalen Guyton #15 catches a pass in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert #10 rushes in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert dives for the end zone and eventually stretches the all across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown in their 30-27 overtime victory over the Raiders on Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert #10 scores the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) scores a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers dives into the end zone for a touchdown to win the game 30-27 during overtime against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers dives into the end zone for a touchdown to win the game 30-27 during overtime against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Tight end Jared Rice #40 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts after teammate quarterback Justin Herbert #10 scored the game-winning touchdown during overtime against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Chargers won 30-37. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers dives into the end zone for a touchdown to win the game 30-27 during overtime against the Los Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Defensive tackle Cortez Broughton #91 of the Los Angeles Chargers congratulates quarterback Justin Herbert #10 after Herbert’s game-winning touchdown during overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Chargers won 30-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • The Los Angeles Chargers celebrate after defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Jeff Bottari)

  • Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, right, embraces quarterback Justin Herbert (10) after defeating the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers greets quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Las Vegas Raiders after the Chargers’ 30-27 overtime win against the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert was asked in October to list his favorite quarterbacks growing up. He rattled off two obvious names in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the third was Marcus Mariota, the backup quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Many snickered on social media because Mariota’s name is rarely grouped with legendary quarterbacks. But Herbert idolized Mariota for his accomplishments at the University of Oregon. Herbert and his family walked from their home in Eugene, Ore., to Autzen Stadium to watch the Ducks for nearly every home game during Mariota’s Heisman Trophy-winning college career. Herbert later went on to star at his hometown university before joining the Chargers in April.

Herbert has gone toe-to-toe with Brady, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes in his first season in the NFL. But unexpectedly playing against Mariota on Thursday night at Allegiant Stadium might top all of those moments for Herbert during his historic rookie season.

Mariota, the 2015 No. 2 overall pick, entered the game after Raiders quarterback Derek Carr pulled his groin late in the first quarter. Suddenly, the many new Chargers fans in Eugene were torn about who to root for in the quarterback duck fight between Herbert and Mariota. Or it was a win-win situation to watch the two Oregon products battle in a prime-time game.

For the Chargers and Raiders, there was almost a tie-tie situation during a chaotic overtime period, but the Chargers changed their fortunes for the second week in a row. Herbert’s quarterback sneak gave the Chargers a 30-27 victory to snap a nine-game losing streak in the AFC West. The Chargers (5-9) recorded their first win against a team with a winning record this season and improved their record in one-score games to 4-7.

“Pretty crazy experience,” Herbert said about playing against Mariota. “I grew up watching Marcus. He was my favorite player. Just being from Eugene, I knew that program so well. To be able to play a couple games against him, it’s been really cool just to see him out on the field. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”

Herbert’s 53-yard pass to wide receiver Jalen Guyton set up his game-winning run with 1:29 left in overtime. It was Herbert’s second consecutive game-winning final drive. He did it against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Inglewood.

“Guys are tired of losing close games and want to win some of these and guys are fighting and they executed at the end,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said.

Herbert finished 22 of 32 for 314 yards, two touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. Mariota completed 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one rushing score.

Mariota flashed his athleticism and Herbert displayed his arm strength in a thrilling back-and-forth shootout. But, as the new Chargers fans in Eugene have learned, the Chargers rarely make it about their stud rookie quarterback.

There’s often a costly missed field goal try or two in a one-score game that takes center stage for Lynn’s team. Chargers kicker Michael Badgley missed field-goal attempts of 47 and 51 yards in the final four minutes of regulation to eventually send the game into overtime with the score tied, 24-24. The second miss came with 58 seconds left after Chris Harris Jr. intercepted a Mariota pass and returned it 52 yards down the sideline.

“I would love to know what’s going on in his head right now,” Lynn said of Badgley. “I know last week he kicked the game-winner. I thought he got his swag back. I thought he was over the hump and he didn’t kick well today. Just that simple. We’re in a dome and he didn’t kick well today.”

The Chargers’ defense saved the game after defensive end Isaac Rochell batted Mariota’s pass on third-and-5 from the Chargers’ 5-yard line in overtime. The Raiders settled for a field goal before Herbert’s heroics.

“Give us your three best plays here,” Harris said when asked what he told his teammates in the red zone during overtime.

The Chargers took their third lead of the game after Kalen Ballage’s 1-yard touchdown run made it  24-17 with 2:08 left in the third quarter. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs tied the score at 17-17 with a 1-yard rushing touchdown with 5:23 in the third quarter.

Herbert tied the rookie record for most passing touchdowns in a season when he connected with wide receiver Tyron Johnson for a 26-yard score, as the Chargers regained the lead 17-10 with 19 seconds left in the first half. It was Herbert’s 27th touchdown pass of the season, tying Baker Mayfield’s mark from 2018 with Cleveland.

Herbert finished the first half 16-of-20 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 140.4.

Mariota didn’t appear rusty on his first drive during the second quarter. He opened with a 22-yard completion to tight end Foster Moreau and then delivered a perfect 35-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Waller to give the Raiders their first lead at 10-7 with 9:19 left in the second quarter. Mariota was 3-of-3 for 70 yards on the scoring drive.

Mariota’s last start came in Week 6 of last season with the Tennessee Titans. He lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill before signing a two-year, $17.6 million deal with the Raiders this past offseason.

The Chargers tied the score at 10-10 after Badgley’s 22-yard field goal with 1:52 left in the first half. The Chargers decided not to go for it on fourth-and-goal on the 4-yard line.

Herbert and the Chargers started the game fast with a 12-play, 78-yard touchdown drive. Herbert was 6-of-6 for 75 yards and capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry.

The Chargers seemed destined for an easy game against a short-handed Raiders’ defense, but it’s never easy for the Chargers. At least now they’re starting to win the close ones.

Justin Herbert! QB SNEAK FOR THE WIN. #BoltUp #LACvsLV pic.twitter.com/RSZK6J84ie

— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2020

HE WAS IN!!! pic.twitter.com/Xl0m0PWuPM

— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 18, 2020

HERBERT GOES DEEP. #BoltUp

📺: #LACvsLV on NFLN/FOX/PRIME VIDEO
📱: https://t.co/W5bCPYgMfo pic.twitter.com/1WWvbE5d0O

— NFL (@NFL) December 18, 2020

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Alexander: Rams might get where they want to go with old-fashioned football

First of all, let’s stipulate. If Thursday night’s Rams-Patriots game was a rematch of Super Bowl LIII, as was advertised, it was in name only. Not even the laundry was the same, though the Rams’ new uniforms are looking better and better as the weeks go by.

It was not a night for revenge, or redemption, or much else having to do with that February 2019 night in Atlanta. Those scars, as Sean McVay said after Thursday night’s 24-3 Rams victory, aren’t going away.

“That’s always going to be a part of, you know, the coaching trajectory for me and a night that, you know, you got to be able to learn from,” he said. “But as far as how that affected our plans going into this game, it really didn’t at all.

“We’re a totally different team. I mean, you see, we’re doing a lot of different things.”

Totally different. And, potentially, quite a bit better.

For example: As colleague Kevin Modesti noted, when Cam Akers uncorked a 35-yard run off left tackle on the second offensive play Thursday night it equaled Todd Gurley’s rushing total in that Super Bowl. We know now that Gurley was physically compromised that night and for much of the back end of that season.

But there’s a message there, and McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell seem to have deciphered it loud and clear. Who knows? Maybe they do read This Space.

Akers didn’t stop at 35. He didn’t stop until he got to 171 yards, on 29 carries, the best game by a Rams rookie running back since Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis pounded his way to 211 on 28 carries in New Orleans in December of 1993, when the Rams were based in Anaheim.

Akers was asked if he thought McVay got the message when he noted last Sunday in Arizona that the more touches he gets, the better his rhythm.

“I think he did,” the rookie said with a grin.

Glad to help, Cam.

These are different teams and a different time and the Super Bowl rematch angle was useful for Fox’s promotion of its Thursday night game but not worth much else. The Patriots might have won four of their previous five going into Thursday’s game, and they might have embarrassed the Chargers on Sunday, but they’re now 6-7 and 2½ games out of an AFC playoff spot with three games to play, and all of Bill Belichick’s coaching powers probably won’t get them into the tournament.

Meanwhile, it is fair to suggest that the Rams, who have won four of five themselves since the debacle at Miami on the first day of November, might be putting themselves in position to do something special. Remember what we said a few weeks ago about keeping up with their championship L.A. neighbors, the Lakers and Dodgers? It seems more feasible now than it did then.

Rediscovering the running game makes a difference. They had a 16-play, 90-yard third-quarter drive Thursday that chewed up 9:42, and 12 of those 16 plays were runs, nine by Akers. (Again, Coach McVay, you’re welcome.)

Jared Goff only threw for 137 yards, with two touchdowns (one rushing), one interception, one sack and a 74.9 rating, but it was almost immaterial.

“As a quarterback, you know, you may think that’s not fun,” Goff said. “(But) those are the best, when we’re just pounding it and able to make those plays.”

It’s old-time football, and it might be the best way for the Rams to operate: Force the opponent’s defense to respect the run and use their own defense to create havoc and impose their will. Somewhere, the late Chuck Knox is smiling.

There certainly was enough defensive havoc Thursday night. The Rams sacked Cam Newton four times and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham twice, with Michael Brockers getting two and Aaron Donald credited with 1½.

“You know, it’s definitely a cliche statement: stop the run, earn the right to rush the passer,” Brockers said. “And I think that’s what we did.”

But there was more. Consecutive New England incursions into the red zone ended with (a) former UCLA Bruin Kenny Young’s first NFL pick-six, a 79-yard interception return on the first play of the second quarter, and (b) a goal-line stand after New England had a first-and-goal at the 6, with Newton trying to run it in from the 2 on fourth down and getting stuffed by linebacker Justin Hollins for a 2-yard loss.

The Rams came into the game with the league’s No. 2 overall defense behind New Orleans and No. 1 against the pass, giving up 291.3 yards per game overall and 198.3 through the air. On Thursday night, those numbers were 220 and 113. The Saints, who have allowed 288 yards per game, face the Eagles (29th in the league in offense) this week, so their number shouldn’t balloon, but that could be an interesting race.

And this is as good a time as any to launch Donald’s campaign for the league’s MVP award, Patrick Mahomes or no Patrick Mahomes, because the attention he gets from opponents creates so many openings for others. The last defensive player to win The Associated Press MVP award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. I think it’s time.

But that’s a side issue. And if you really want to use this occasion to re-explore Super Bowl LIII, maybe the Patriots did the Rams a favor that night, painful as it was at the time.

“Being at that pinnacle, being at that Super Bowl and understanding what it takes to get back – all I’m trying to do is lead this team and give examples on what we have to do to keep finishing, keep pushing through,” Brockers said.

“Because there’s going to be another chapter.”

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Whicker: Goff’s bodyguards keep his jersey clean enough to beat Bucs

The Rams are 7-3 this morning because they had the better quarterback on a field that also included Tom Brady.

The main reason Jared Goff was the better quarterback on Monday night is the capable friends he brought, even with a close one left behind.

The Rams won, 27-24, when Jordan Fuller intercepted Brady at the end, on a night when Goff threw 51 times at Raymond James Stadium. Without injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was carted away from last week’s victory over Seattle, they could have been putting Goff in the same danger zone that engulfed him in Miami.

Instead, Goff never was sacked and probably has had 18-hole rounds that were more painful. The Bucs’ defense only hit him three times. The cushion he was provided, to find Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and the rest of the crew, was why the Rams put up just enough points to win.

Joe Noteboom got the call to replace Whitworth. To his right, in order, were Austin Corbett, Austin Blythe, David Edwards and Rob Havenstein. Of that group, only Havenstein was manning the same position he played in the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to Brady and New England. Havenstein also committed the only penalty of the game for the offensive line (holding) and nobody on the unit false-started against a Tampa Bay rush unit that averages 3.2 sacks, fourth in the league.

“Joe Noteboom had a great game at left tackle,” Woods said. “You gotta think about whose position he’s filling. He had Shaq Barrett and JPP (Jean-Pierre Paul) to deal with.”

Since the Rams put their running game on hold, Goff concentrated on rhythmic short passes against a dynamic young Tampa Bay secondary. His two touchdown passes went to rookies Cam Akers and Van Jefferson, but Kupp and Woods were able to run profusely whenever they caught the ball short, and that doesn’t happen without drone-type accuracy from the quarterback. Those two combined for 23 catches for 275 yards.

“I really loved what Cooper and Robert did,” McVay said. “They really created a lot of stuff on their own.”

If the Rams can lean on that big-boy foundation and keep improving their efficiency, they have much to anticipate.

Their defense was special again Monday night, even though they rarely got to Brady. They stuffed Ronald Jones for 24 yards in 10 carries, with Micah Kiser perhaps foretelling the future when, on Tampa Bay’s first play, he hit fifth gear almost immediately and stuffed Jones at the line of scrimmage. Except for Mike Evans’ touchdown when Jalen Ramsey wasn’t guarding him, the Rams generally stopped the Buccaneers’ receivers in their tracks.

Evans’ 18-yard play was the longest for Tampa Bay all night, and the numbers would have looked much better if not for three pass interference penalties.

In the past two weeks, the Rams have dealt QB ratings of 57 and 62.5 to Russell Wilson and Brady.

After the Rams took a 17-14 halftime lead, they put Brady in neutral for the entire third quarter, giving Tampa Bay only 8 yards. But they allowed this to stay a seven-point game for a little too long, and when Jordan Whitehead closed strongly and intercepted Goff’s throw down the middle, it came time for Brady to call back the years.

He hustled the Bucs to the tying touchdown, finding Chris Godwin for the final 13 yards as Darious Williams couldn’t get to him fast enough. That put the onus on Goff and the Rams to see if their quick-pitch offense could work when it mattered most, with 3:53 remaining.

The Rams ran only five times in the first half, and Goff piled up the stats with short shots to Kupp and the rest.

Here, Goff used play-action and fired 25 yards to Woods on first down, the 11th ball Woods had caught. Then Goff rolled out and found Kupp for 18 yards, which was Kupp’s 11th reception as well. It was also Goff’s 50th attempt and his 39th completion.

Then the Rams picked a surprising time to revert to the running game, and wound up with a fourth-and-8 situation. Matt Gay, who was 1-for-2 beforehand, converted a 40-yard field-goal attempt for a 27-24 lead with 2:36 remaining, and with Brady holding one time out.

History indicates that Brady is somewhat lethal when given those options. But maybe current events are catching up with Brady. He tried to get a chunk of yardage with a down-the-middle throw to Cameron Brate, but it floated.

Fuller, who had already intercepted Brady once, stood there and watched the ball come to him. For the Rams, it was like a pillow mint that enabled a peaceful flight, and night.

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