MINNEAPOLIS — If the New England Patriots were going to win Super Bowl LII, they were going to do it without their No. 2 cornerback. They didn’t.

The Patriots lost 41-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles, and fingers undoubtedly will be pointed at Bill Belichick for his decision to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler on defense for the entire game. Butler was the Patriots’ best cornerback in 2015 and 2016. He’s been their No. 2 behind Stephon Gilmore all season, and Belichick decided he didn’t need him in the biggest game of the season.

Butler was spotted covering his face during the national anthem.

The benching was referred to as a coach’s decision on the game broadcast. Belichick said during halftime, “I made the decisions that give us the best chance to win.”

Butler missed Super Bowl LII Opening Night on Monday with an illness. He was limited in practice Wednesday, was a full participant Thursday and was cleared and removed from the injury report Friday.

It’s worth noting Rowe, playing over Butler, allowed a touchdown. Richards, playing over Butler, let up a big play to Corey Clement.

The Patriots had a 33-32 lead with early in the fourth quarter after quarterback Tom Brady threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. Then the Patriots’ defense, sans Butler, of course, allowed a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by an 11-yard catch by tight end Zach Ertz.

Trailing by five points, Brady was strip-sacked at the Patriots’ 33-yard line. The Eagles recovered, drained more than a minute off the clock and converted a 46-yard field goal.

New England received the kickoff with 1:05 left in the game, but even the magic of the Patriots’ dynasty wears off at some point. The Patriots needed to score a touchdown and convert on a two-point conversion to win. They couldn’t do it.

The Patriots now are 5-3 in Super Bowls under Belichick and with Brady at quarterback. The loss to the Eagles does nothing to tarnish either man’s legacy or the team’s dynasty. But fans always will wonder how this game would have gone differently if Butler played. Or if Brandin Cooks didn’t suffer a second-quarter concussion, for that matter.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images