We might never get a full honest, unfiltered explanation for why Malcolm Butler was benched in Super Bowl LII. Our best shot might be Butler saying “screw it” and spilling the beans in a post-retirement book, or something.
(In fact, with Butler reportedly considering retirement right now, such a revelation might arrive sooner than expected.)
However, at this point, what might be the best report on the infamous New England Patriots mystery — one of them, anyway — arrived Wednesday courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. While talking about Butler’s potential NFL retirement, Breer offered insight into a Bill Belichick decision many believe cost the Patriots a Super Bowl win against the Eagles.
Here’s the full excerpt:
(You can click here to listen to the segment, which begins with the Butler conversation.)
“My understanding is that he was legitimately sick the week of that game,” Breer said during an appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak & Bertrand” show. “That was actually 100 percent legit. So, that was why he didn’t travel with the team on Sunday (a week before the game). He flies in on Wednesday, and they put him out there on the practice field. And, when they put him out there on the practice field, your role in the game becomes pretty clear. And my understanding is that it was very clear that his role in the game was not going to be as a starter. Like, he was gonna be the third corner behind (Stephon) Gilmore and … Eric Rowe. So, he was gonna be the nickel corner and, like, playing a specialized role.
“And, from what I understand, he went in the tank and had an awful week of practice. And, what I had heard, was that the coaches coming out of that felt like they couldn’t trust him in the game. Because he had just … mentally wasn’t in a good place. And, so, they decide (to bench him). Obviously, there’s the contract (Butler was hitting free agency) hanging over him, too. All of that stuff. They felt like he wasn’t in the right place to play. … As for how the week played out, that’s how I understood it played out.”
Breer added: “His role that week, and I think the contract played into it, too … where it’s like, ‘Alright, I got sick, now you’re demoting me.’ And I think any human being in that situation, where you’ve got one game to go until free agency, is probably thinking to himself, ‘You’re really screwing me here, because not only am I not starting in the biggest game of my life, you’re also putting me in the situation where I’m gonna have to answer for that when I get to free agency.’ “
Breer and the hosts of the show also referenced, but did not answer, the top leftover questions: Why did Belichick not insert Butler while Nick Foles was tearing up his defense? Did something particularly noteworthy and/or scandalous happen during Butler’s “awful” week?
We might never know. Regardless, Breer’s explanation feels like the closest to the truth we’ve gotten since that fateful night in Minnesota.