Was Patriots-Jaguars Fixed? Tom Brady Conspiracy Theories Fly After AFC Championship Thriller

Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to yet another Super Bowl appearance on Sunday evening at Gillette Stadium, orchestrating a fourth-quarter comeback over the fiercely competitive Jacksonville Jaguars.

At least, that was one narrative. The other, based on so many years of the Patriots being that damn good, plus the scandals associated with Bill Belichick's team (Deflategate, Spygate), developed in the hours after the game among those willing anyone but New England to play against the Eagles in Minneapolis on February 4.

With the Patriots milling around and celebrating on the field, an official, identified by WEEI.com as Clete Blakeman walked over to Brady and patted him on the back in what looked very much like a gesture of congratulations.

First guy to congratulate Brady? Number 34. What a teammate! pic.twitter.com/azXq3qgN43

— OurState CSU (@OurStateCSU) January 21, 2018

"He [the official] then used the universal nice-job-man pat to the chest, congratulating the 40-year-old on clinching his eighth Super Bowl appearance", Mark W. Sanchez wrote in the New York Post.

Eagle-eyed viewers also picked up on another official, Tony Steratore, smiling in a crowd of Patriots players after a New England touchdown. That picture provoked laughter from Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

😂 https://t.co/Sfsysb6FQv

— Deshaun Watson (@deshaunwatson) January 21, 2018

While there isn't a scintilla of evidence to suggest the Patriots' comeback was in any way dodgy, the Jaguars players themselves appeared to allude to inconsistencies in the officiating after the game. "I'll just say that's self-explanatory. Interesting. That's all I'm going to say", Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack said in quotes reported by the Washington Post, referring to the two pass-interference calls committed by Jacksonville during the game. The penalties were, "Out of character for an elite unit that had accounted for just five such flags during the entire regular season," the Post's Des Bieler wrote.

"The stats speak for themselves," Malik Jackson, the Jaguars defensive tackle, said postgame. Jacksonville was penalized six times for 98 yards, while the Patriots had one penalty flag thrown against them in the game.

The Patriots were called for 1 penalty against the Jaguars

It is the fewest penalties called on one team in a playoff game since the 2011 AFC Championship... when the Patriots were called for 1 penalty in a win over the Ravens

— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 21, 2018

Even WEEI, the Boston sports radio broadcaster, was more than a little puzzled at what Steratore was doing in the crowd of Patriots. " Less easily explained? What this official [Steratore] was so happy about after the Patriots' first touchdown," John Tomase wrote.

Of course, the only thing that really matters is that the Jaguars are going home while the Patriots march on to Super Bowl 52. Those willing New England's dynasty to end, though, have been left with bitterness in their mouths once again.