MINNEAPOLIS — Malcolm Butler’s career with the New England Pariots truly began when he was on the field in Super Bowl XLIX when he wasn’t expected to be. It ended when he was not on the field in Super Bowl LII when he was expected to be.
It started in tears of joy. It ended in tears of disappointment. This is not poetry. This is an elegy.
Butler didn’t play a single defensive snap in the Patriots’ 41-33 Super Bowl LII loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which New England’s defense allowed quarterback Nick Foles to throw for 373 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The Butler-less defense allowed 538 total yards.
These things seem related, no?
It was described as a “coaching decision,” by a source close to Butler.
We were able to piece together a rough timeline of how the benching transpired through cornerback Eric Rowe, who started over Butler.
— Rowe didn’t know throughout the week that Butler wouldn’t play.
— Rowe was playing opposite starting cornerback Stephon Gilmore throughout practice.
— Rowe believed the initial plan was not to bench Butler because he was involved in defensive packages.
— Rowe said Butler not starting wasn’t official until kickoff.
— Rowe still expected Butler to play during the game.
Butler was spotted crying during the national anthem. It was reported during the game that he would not play on defense. Based on the NFL Game Book, it appears Butler played on special teams. He didn’t play a single special teams snap during the regular season, however.
This is weird, right?
Other than Rowe, no one else offered up much information on the benching. Safety Duron Harmon and linebacker Kyle Van Noy directed their questions to head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick said Butler wasn’t benched for disciplinary reasons and that it was strictly a football decision.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said it was a situational decision.
Butler said the Patriots gave up on him.
The Patriots played safety Patrick Chung in the slot for most of the game. When the Patriots would go into dime, Jordan Richards came on the field as a linebacker. Johnson Bademosi replaced a benched Richards, but when Chung briefly got hurt, Richards and Bademosi played together.
Butler’s benching had a trickle-down effect that saw Bademosi play his first defensive snaps since Week 17, when he was on for 12 plays. He hadn’t appeared on defense before the regular-season finale since Week 10.
Rowe called Butler “an amazing player.”
Gilmore said Butler “could have helped us, maybe, I don’t know. That’s how the game goes sometimes.”
Richards let up three catches on three targets for 81 yards. Rowe allowed six catches on nine targets for 79 yards with two pass breakups and a touchdown to Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery. Chung let up five catches on seven targets for 70 yards. Bademosi let up one catch for 17 yards.
Situation be damned, it seems like it would have made a lot of sense to have Butler play outside with Rowe in the slot and Chung in his usual hybrid-linebacker role. That keeps Richards and Bademosi off the field.
And ultimately, benching Butler was wrong. The Patriots lost. Their defense was gashed as one of its staples stood on the bench with his chin strap buttoned.
Butler didn’t deserve to go out like this. He’ll be a free agent after the season, and this undoubtedly will hurt his wallet. Butler was a Super Bowl hero, and now his tenure with the team ended unceremoniously.