Physical secondary play in Super Bowl could test officials

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepts a pass intended for Green Bay Packers' Allen Lazard during the first half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers got to the Super Bowl using a similar strategy in the secondary.

Their cornerbacks played press coverage and got physical with receivers, trying to disrupt routes and timing in hopes of slowing down the opposing passing game.

“There’s a couple of ways you can play football,” Bucs cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross said. “You can play football, lay back and let the receivers go where they want to go. Or you can put your hands on them and try to take the timing off of some routes. We choose to do the latter for the most part and go from there.”

The Chiefs like to do the same and whether either team will be able to do that on Sunday will depend in large part on how closely the officials call the game in the secondary.

Both teams have gotten away with some physical play in the secondary so far in the playoffs with the Bucs being penalized for defensive holding three times and pass interference once in three games, while the Chiefs were called for defensive holding twice and pass interference once in two games.

One of the key plays in the NFC championship came when the officials let Tampa Bay cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting get away with a possible hold before intercepting Aaron Rodgers late in the first half. Instead of the Packers scoring late in the half, the Bucs turned that takeaway into a TD that gave them a 21-10 lead.

“I feel like it’s physical from both sides of the ball,” Murphy-Bunting said. “It’s receivers being physical as well. I feel like the referees are letting you play and they’re going to let you play in the playoffs. You just got to play ball and be ready to go.”

That definitely appears to be the case as the number of penalties per game drop more than 20% from the regular season to the playoffs since 2010. In the past three Super Bowls, there has been only one defensive pass interference call, coming against San Francisco’s Tarvarius Moore in the fourth quarter last year.