Gillette Stadium was the backdrop Sunday afternoon, Jan. 21, for the AFC championship, where future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady engineered his 10th double-digit, fourth-quarter playoff comeback to propel his New England Patriot teammates past the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20.

But what the team’s haters around the country have been alleging ad nauseam ever since was that the NFL officials were once again in the satchel to help the hometown team win the game.

There were a combined total of 11 penalties called in the game, 10 on the Jaguars. The haters thought the officials should have evened up the infractions.

They talked about a pass interference call that set up the Patriots’ first touchdown of the game in the second quarter. They said it was an uncatchable pass. Maybe so, but second team All-Pro cornerback A.J. Bouye should still not have practically mauled wide receiver Brandin Cooks — right in front of an official, no less. That play came right after the Jags forced the Patriots’ primary receiver, tight end Rob Gronkowski, to the sidelines for the rest of the game with a blow to the head.

The haters also claimed that Deon Lewis’ fumble should have been a Jacksonville touchdown when linebacker Myles Jack recovered it but was denied an opportunity to run it back because of a quick official’s whistle. In real time, however, without the benefit of instant replay, most commentators agreed that the referee made the right call. But why let the facts interfere with a good story, a credo that the haters certainly seem to live by when bringing up the Patriots.

Don’t these haters understand that this is the same league that brought us Spygate and Deflategate on the basis of half-truths, innuendoes and unnamed sources? For their alleged crimes that should have only warranted $25,000 in penalties, the league instead took away draft picks and fined individuals substantially, while even suspending Brady for four games. As a result, the Patriots are probably the first victim of “fake news.”

The league’s tactics seemed engineered to bring the Patriots back to the rest of the pack — even if they certainly failed, given the team won two more Super Bowls and is going for a third one in four years on Feb. 4 in Minnesota. Regardless, now all of a sudden we are apparently supposed to believe that the league and its officials are complicit in keeping the Patriots’ dynasty from ever dying out.

Instead of belaboring over referees’ calls that can be debated in every game of every sport — ask the Seattle Seahawks how they felt after they were beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl that concluded the 2006 season — the haters are missing the fact that the Jags still had a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots were without the services of Gronkowski, and of course Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, who have been out with injuries all season long. But somehow down to his third, fourth and fifth offensive target, football’s greatest of all time still managed to write another chapter in his storied career.

To be fair, Boston fans have hated the New York Yankees and Montreal Canadiens for being a part of alleged indiscretions by game officials over the years. Also, haters of the Atlanta Braves in the 1990s would also claim that Greg Maddux benefited from a large strike zone, to name another example of excuses by passionate parochial fans.

These were no more egregious than what the haters would claim is happening in games involving the Patriots today.

But in retrospect, it all seems so silly. Excuses are usually reserved for losers not wanting to own up to the fact that their team was just not good enough to sustain a lead or mount a comeback during late stages of a game. That, in a nutshell, basically separates the Patriots from everybody else in this millennium, like it or not.

— Joe McConnell is a sports editor for GateHouse Media New England’s North Unit. You can reach him by email at