MINNEAPOLIS — New England Patriots fans hoping for answers about cornerback Malcolm Butler’s stunning Super Bowl LII benching got none from defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Patricia, who is widely expected to become the next head coach of the Detroit Lions this offseason, offered the same maddening response to repeated questions about Butler not seeing the field in New England’s 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Question: Why didn’t Butler play?
Patricia: “We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense, and those guys that were out there for all the situations that we needed them for. So it kind of turned out that way, and the game, with the way it went and some of the situations that came up, that was just kind of the way it went.”
Q: Butler started 17 of 18 games for you. It seems bizarre he couldn’t make it on the field when the Eagles were putting up 41 points. It’s got to be more than that.
Patricia: “Again, we had some guys in different spots that we practiced and in those spots for a couple weeks. We just felt good about some of those situations that we had out there and some of the matchups that we had that they possessed based on the skill sets that they have.”
Q: Butler is one of the best players on your team. How could you have him on the sideline for the whole game?
Patricia: “I mean, again, we’re just trying to put everybody in the right spot to make plays — the guys that we thought could make the plays in the right situation.”
Q: Isn’t it weird that Butler was active if he wasn’t going to play?
Patricia: “I mean, we needed enough guys to be active for the game to play, for whatever situation that came up. If he was called upon, he was ready to play in those packages if that situation arose.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in his postgame news conference that Butler’s benching was not disciplinary. If that’s true, it makes no sense to dress him — taking up a spot on the 46-man active roster — then leave him on the sideline all night.
Even if Butler, who was inconsistent this season but had started all but one game since the start of the 2015 season, was not part of the Patriots’ original game plan, that plan should have been tweaked as Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles spent three hours tearing New England’s defense to shreds.
Eric Rowe, who started over Butler, struggled early in the game, and reserve safety Jordan Richards, playing in dime packages, was picked on throughout the night.
Belichick and Patricia did make one halftime adjustment, but it was to plug Johnson Bademosi — a special teams standout who rarely played on defense during the second half of the season — into Richards’ spot rather than Butler. Then, once safety Patrick Chung suffered an injury, Richards returned.
Butler played the most defensive snaps of any Patriots player this season. He played the second-most snaps in 2016 and the most in 2015. For him to play zero in the most important game of the year is baffling. Patriots fans deserve a legitimate explanation.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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