As difficult as it is to believe, it’s beginning to look like Malcolm Butler’s benching in Super Bowl LII truly was a football decision.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning on WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” that, based on what he’s heard from sources, the New England Patriots did not play Butler on defense during their 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles because of poor performance in games and practices.

“Having spoken to a couple of different people about the situation, maybe I am missing something and maybe they are missing something and didn’t know something, but the way it was explained to me was, this was strictly a performance-based decision,” Schefter said.

“Now, again, I am just telling you I understand he played over 97 percent of the snaps (this season). He made one of the two greatest defensive plays in Super Bowl history. He has been somebody they’ve counted on. It defies logic to think that somebody you have counted on that much in the past all of the sudden is not important, but I am just telling you what was told to me. You can believe it or not.

“I was told (he) hasn’t practiced well, hasn’t played well, hasn’t practiced well this season, hasn’t played well this season, and they decided to go in a different direction.”

Butler had started all but one game over the previous three seasons and played more defensive snaps than any Patriots player over that span, leading to speculation that there must be more to the story of why he played just one special teams snap on Sunday while his replacements allowed passing yards by the truckload.

Head coach Bill Belichick said Butler’s benching was not disciplinary, however, and the cornerback released a statement denying reports that he missed curfew or violated any team rules during Super Bowl week.

Asked Monday in a conference call how sitting Butler could have given the Patriots the best chance to win, Belichick responded: “I appreciate the question, but it would be a much longer discussion. There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”

Thumbnail photo via Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK