One of the most enduring images from the New England Patriots’ 24-20 victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship game wasn’t an iconic play, player or moment.
Rather, it was from a first-half touchdown celebration.
If this isn’t proof the refs want to Patriots to win I don’t know what is pic.twitter.com/NYEVzg6Vyr
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) January 21, 2018
It’s not the highest quality image, but it clearly shows a smiling NFL referee in the middle of several Patriots players as they celebrated a key touchdown.
The image has been widely circulated online, with many Patriots detractors citing the image as proof positive that the fix was in against the Jaguars.
But much like a supermarket tabloid, while the image is “true” in the sense that it’s not a doctored image, it also fails to provide any context whatsoever.
The entirety of the play makes it pretty clear that this image does not portray an NFL official celebrating with the Patriots.
.@SweetFeet_White is IN!
— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2018
After running back James White scored a touchdown, there was some extracurricular pushing and shoving.
Of note, that extracurricular activity was started by Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack, who could have easily been penalized for slapping White in the helmet after the play was over.
Before a bigger fight broke out, the official stepped between the players, who at this point were hyped up and talking a lot of trash to each other.
Patriots guard Shaq Mason bumped into the official amid the hullabaloo, and said something to him.
The referee seems to tell Mason, “I know, I know,” presumably after Mason told the referee that he didn’t mean to bump into him.
The referee just happened to have a smile on his face while telling Mason, “I know.”
Is it bad optics considering the narrative that the referees favor the Patriots? Absolutely.
But it’s literally “fake news” to suggest that this is in any way proof positive that referees favor the Patriots.
Another popular video circulating the internet shows the dastardly moment referee Clete Blakeman dared to show Tom Brady any modicum of congratulations following the Patriots win.
First guy to congratulate Brady? Number 34. What a teammate! pic.twitter.com/azXq3qgN43
— OurState CSU (@OurStateCSU) January 21, 2018
It’s almost as terrible as when the same referee wished Peyton Manning good luck as Super Bowl 50 was set to kickoff.
former Husker Clete Blakeman asked Peyton Manning, "do you know where I live and practice law?" pic.twitter.com/5aBBRCLXf5
— Brian Jacoby (@bljacoby381) February 8, 2016
For the sake of accuracy, it should also be noted that Blakeman wasn’t the first person to congratulate Brady despite what the widely circulated tweet claims. It was actually Jacksonville linebacker Lerentee McCray.
Again, it’s all bad optics when so many people accuse the officials of favoritism toward the Patriots. And there are many more concrete things to point to in terms of 50/50 calls favoring the Patriots, such as the dubious pass interference that set up White’s touchdown.
However, these particular viral images are simply not indicative of any facts proving that referees are biased toward the Patriots.
But then again, nobody ever lets facts ruin a good conspiracy theory.
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