The Patriots’ 24-20 win over the Jaguars in the AFC championship game produced some noteworthy numbers, including Tom Brady’s 138 passing yards, two touchdowns and 136.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, some couldn’t help but notice other sets of numbers, specifically 1-10 and 6-98.
Those represented the numbers of penalties, plus the accompanying yardage, accrued by New England and Jacksonville, respectively. According to NFL Research, the single flag thrown on the Patriots Sunday made for the lowest total for one team in a playoff contest since the 2011 AFC championship game, when the Patriots also had just one penalty while defeating the Ravens.
By contrast, the Jaguars’ defense accounted for two penalties on pass-interference calls alone, out of character for an elite unit that had accounted for just five such flags during the entire regular season (per ESPN). After the game, Jacksonville linebacker Myles Jack said of the discrepancy in penalties, “I’ll just say that’s self-explanatory. Interesting. That’s all I’m going to say.”
“The stats speak for themselves,” Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson added.
If the Jaguars were content to merely insinuate that the Patriots had received favorable treatment, others spelled it out more directly. One image that was widely shared online — to Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson’s apparent amusement — showed back judge Tony Steratore engaging in a lighthearted moment with Patriots players after a New England touchdown.
Another Twitter user showed a moment just after the game ended, when referee Clete Blakeman appeared to offer a gesture of congratulations to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That earned a laugh from Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas.
Those weren’t the only officiating moments in Pats-Jags that struck more than a few observers as questionable. Many were angered by a whistle that blew dead a play on which Jack recovered a fourth-quarter fumble, negating a possible return for a touchdown by the linebacker that would have given his team a 26-10 lead, plus a likely extra point.
Others took issue with a pass-interference call against Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye that advanced the ball 32 yards for New England and went a long way toward helping the Patriots score a touchdown to cut their deficit to four just before halftime. That was the score which led to the moment with Steratore.
“I just got to watch the tape,” Bouye said of that play after the game. “I need to go look at the rule book on [pass interference penalties], because you’re telling me the receiver can have his hands on me the whole way down the field, but if I look for the ball and try to protect myself from being pushed, it’s a flag?”
Bouye also decried the lack of a flag he thought should have been thrown on the Patriots’ Danny Amendola, alleging that the wide receiver head-butted Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson. “I was p—-d because I seen Amendola head-butt the hell out of Gip in front of the ref, and you all don’t call nothing?” Bouye said (per ESPN).
Some, though, scoffed at the notion that the NFL and its officials could be conspiring to help the Patriots, pointing out that the league not long ago went to great lengths in federal courts to have its four-game Deflategate suspension levied upon Brady upheld. In addition, Blakeman had previously earned the suspicion of Patriots fans after he was identified in the Wells report on Deflategate as one of the officials who tested the air pressure of the fateful footballs at halftime of the 2015 AFC championship game.
Criticism of the apportionment of penalties Sunday came a week after similar complaints were lodged against the officiating in the Patriots’ 35-14 playoff win over the Titans. “Ratings for NFL have tanked and league is desperate for Patriots to win,” sports pundit Clay Travis said during that contest.
Ultimately, though, it’s hard to make a convincing case that the NFL has instituted a pro-Patriots policy or that lopsided calls are the reason for the team’s remarkable run of success. Arguably, the single greatest reason New England has been so good is the consistently excellent preparation of Coach Bill Belichick, and a hallmark of his teams has been a habit of making fewer mistakes than their opponents, particularly at key junctures.
Nevertheless, among the many facets of the legacy these dynastic Patriots have compiled are all the conspiracy theorists spawned from it. Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars clearly added a few, not least in the Jacksonville locker room.
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