At least one member of the Patriots coaching staff feared Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl LII benching could have lasting repercussions in the locker room, according to a longtime team leader.
Recently retired safety and co-captain Devin McCourty revealed this week that Brian Flores met with him the following season to ensure that Bill Belichick’s decision not to play Butler against the Philadelphia Eagles would not permanently fracture the team.
McCourty said Flores, who replaced Matt Patricia as New England’s defensive play-caller after Super Bowl LII, noted how the Seahawks’ budding dynasty crumbled after Pete Carroll called a goal-line pass play in Super Bowl XLIX rather than handing off to Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch. Seattle, of course, lost that game to New England and hasn’t advanced beyond the divisional round in the eight years since.
“I remember the next year meeting with (Flores), and Flo was like, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to make sure that whole situation doesn’t affect the team this year,’ ” McCourty, a captain for 12 of his 13 Patriots seasons, said on Chris Long’s “Green Light” podcast. “He was like, I look back at Seattle when we played them in the Super Bowl and they don’t run the ball, it kind of seemed like that was the end to that team. They never got back to the Super Bowl, and that team was so talented. That Seattle team had everything.
“He was like, ‘I just don’t want that to destroy us.’ “
The Butler benching did not destroy the Patriots, who went on to win their sixth Super Bowl title the following season. But it remains one of the most infamous coaching decisions in Boston sports history and, a half-decade later, still has not been adequately explained.
Butler had played 98% of New England’s defensive snaps during the 2017 season and 100% in the first two playoff games. But he logged just one special teams snap in the 41-33 loss to Philadelphia, for reasons that still are unclear even to his teammates at the time.
Perhaps the forthcoming book and documentary Butler announced last month will provide some new revelations. McCourty hopes so.
“Think about it: If there was something to know, we’re years past all of those guys on the team, and you haven’t heard anybody (reveal anything),” McCourty told Long. “None of us knew. … To this day, I still don’t know the exact reason why he didn’t play. When I saw he was coming out with a book and a documentary, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to read that.’ (Ex-Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore) actually texted me and was like, ‘I’m going to buy this book ASAP.’ “