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The Curious Case of Malcolm Butler

Photo Courtesy of USA Today
Written by Matt Thibault

This past week’s Super Bowl was one that many people will remember for years to come. For some, they’ll remember it as the day that the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in franchise history: the day that two offenses geared up, threw down, and crushed each defense into a pulp. Some will remember a performance from Tom Brady that seemed to represent his willpower, as he almost singlehandedly, it seemed, torched the Eagles’ secondary, throwing for over 500 yards and cementing his position as the greatest quarterback of all time.

One thing that Patriots fans will remember about this Super Bowl, however, is a bizarre coaching move that I think cost the Patriots a chance at the Lombardi trophy. Malcolm Butler, defensive back, was benched for the entire Super Bowl, other than on special teams. His disappearance was noted almost immediately; reporters witnessed him crying after the game, and he is quoted as saying that he feels the Patriots gave up on him. For a starter, one who played almost 100 percent of defensive snaps on top of that, to be benched for the Super Bowl is brow-raising in its own right.

The real kicker of this situation? No one outside of the coaching staff, not even Butler, seems to know why.

When questioned about this move by the media, Bill Belichick, head coach of the Patriots, gave answers in his trademark taciturn style. When asked if this was about discipline, he said no. According to him, it was a football decision.

Look, when Nick Foles can pick your defense apart in the Super Bowl, there are some issues. The Patriots secondary was scorched by Foles, who moved the ball without effort, aided by a great early rushing game from LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. The Patriots defense had some serious issues that night. So, when you have a guy on your bench who has, quite literally, played just about every down on defense that year, why wouldn’t you put him in?

Do the Eagles still win that game if Butler is in? Quite possibly. I know for sure that it’s a different game; a starter like that provides the chemistry that every team in every sport so desperately needs. When you remove an essential and familiar cog from the machine, it can affect the output of the entire system. When Butler’s backups were getting roasted by everyone from Alshon Jeffery to Nelson Agholor and you have a better player on the bench, you put him in, especially in the Super Bowl.

Patriots fans have always held the belief “In Bill We Trust.” Now, I’m not so sure. Given the rumors floating around that he was benched for a violation of team rules, such as missing curfew and being late to Super Bowl week (which was because he was sick), there are some reasons that can be considered. Frankly, I don’t believe either one. Belichick is a win hungry dude, so there’s no way he would bench one of his best defensive backs for something as minor as missing a curfew. If someone does something like that, you bench him for the first few series, not the entire game, especially when you’re getting eviscerated in the air. Butler himself has even came out and denied the allegations.

I can’t fathom what will happen, what new details will come out (or already have, if something pops before this hits print). Belichick needs to have a good reason. I do know that if I were Malcolm Butler, I’d leave New England in a heartbeat, which he is in the position to do; his contract runs out this offseason, and he becomes a free agent, able to sign with other teams.

The trust that people have in Belichick as a coach is in danger of eroding, and with Matt Patricia signing with the Lions, this Patriots defensive situation is only going to get more and more precarious. In the offseason, they need to buckle down, but until then, the spotlight is on Belichick, Butler, and a benching that cost the Patriots a Super Bowl.

About the author

Matt Thibault