FOXBORO, Mass. — Sunday’s game will be the New England Patriots’ first at University of Phoenix Stadium since Super Bowl XLIX — the contest that introduced the world to Malcolm Butler.
Butler’s game-sealing interception at the goal line gave the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl title and made the undrafted rookie a household name. He proved last year it was no fluke by earning a Pro Bowl selection in his first season as an NFL starter.
“It’s an honor to go back,” Butler said Wednesday. “But that can’t help us win the game.”
Butler played a team-high 98.9 percent of defensive snaps for New England last season, and the Arizona Cardinals’ explosive, pass-happy offense will challenge him Sunday.
His strategy for slowing down Carson Palmer, David Johnson and Arizona’s trio of talented receivers?
“It’s easy,” Butler said. “Just stop the pass, stop the run.”
Well, there you have it.
Some additional notes from Wednesday’s Patriots media availability:
— Most Patriots players who spoke with reporters admitted they’ll be feeling some butterflies Sunday in the lead-up to kickoff.
“I feel like that before every game,” tight end Martellus Bennett said. “I get butterflies before every game. I think once you lose those butterflies, it’s probably when you should hang ‘em up.”
“I think if you don’t get butterflies and you’re not getting that little feeling in your stomach, something’s wrong with you,” center David Andrews added. “You’re playing in the NFL. There’s a feeling. Some people may call it butterflies, but everybody gets that little feeling.”
Safety Devin McCourty offered a similar take, saying, “Any time you want to go out there and play well and win a game, you should have some nervousness, some butterflies.”
One exception to this rule was defensive end Chris Long.
“I’m pretty calm,” the ninth-year pro said. “I’m excited, but I’m not, like, nervous. Especially coming off preseason, you work so hard for this opportunity to play regular-season football. It’s just hard to match that atmosphere.”
— Bennett gave a ringing endorsement of fellow Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who on Tuesday became a Patriots team captain for the first time in his career.
“He’s been great since I’ve been here,” said Bennett, who’s entering his first season in New England. “I don’t know anything about the past, I just know since I’ve been here, he’s been a great teammate and a great guy. It’s well-deserved.”
The Gronkowski-Bennett combo has the potential to be one of the NFL’s most dangerous, with Bennett — to steal one of his lines — serving as Robin to Gronk’s Batman.
“I don’t consider myself a star,” Bennett said. “I consider myself a blue-collar tight end. So I just got in and go to work. The game plan is what the game plan is. You all will have to wait for Sunday night. It’s like waiting for a movie to premiere.”
— Practice squad running back Bishop Sankey wore No. 25 on Tuesday in his first Patriots practice. He has since switched to No. 34, with newly acquired cornerback/safety Eric Rowe snagging No. 25.
— An interesting note courtesy of Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com: The Cardinals have won six consecutive home openers and each of their last 10 September home games.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have started 1-0 in 12 of the last 13 seasons. The only exception came in 2014, when they opened with a loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images