Until kickoff last night, starting corner Malcolm Butler thought he’d be playing in his third Super Bowl with the Patriots. It’s a decision that is still baffling analysts, fans, and former players, hours after the Pats lost to the Eagles, 41-33.
In the regular season, Butler was strong on an otherwise-weak defense, leading with a 97.83 snap percentage. His two tackles in last year’s Super Bowl helped New England bounce back against the Falcons’ overwhelming lead. His goal-line interception gave the Patriots their 2015 Super Bowl win. Even his Super Bowl replacement, Eric Rowe, was surprised that he’d be playing instead of Butler, telling reporters “No, that wasn’t the plan.” It definitely didn’t feel like a plan, with the Pats giving up 538 yards, the most ever under Belichick.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia gave a very informative answer on the matter, telling reporters, “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.” That’s an empty runaround if I’ve ever heard one. Belichick, as usual, gave a very detailed statement: “the final decision is what I said it was.”
Belichick also said that Butler’s unofficial benching wasn’t for any disciplinary reasons, but rather a coach’s decision. So the coach decided that one of the most relied-on players of the regular season and first two playoff games (not to mention those other two Super Bowl wins) wouldn’t be crucial in the big game? Makes sense.
Former Pats cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Ty Law both questioned Belichick’s decision. Fans were quick to notice that Browner’s Instagram post about Belichick’s “stupid decision” was liked by teammate Dont’a Hightower. Browner also told Butler, “it’s ok to move on.”
Hearing that soundbite, “They gave up on me,” just kind of breaks my heart. Athletes give so much of themselves and work incredibly hard to get to these moments that should be the pinnacles of their careers. To be deprived of even the chance to contribute must be crushing. To watch your team lose from the sidelines and be powerless to help, frustrating. To wonder forever if you could’ve made a difference in the outcome of a Super Bowl, devastating.
As Butler heads into the offseason a restricted free agent, this feels like the end of his time in New England. The Pats didn’t want to sign him to a long-term deal last year, and that combined with this crushing blow are certainly cause for Butler to want to play for a team that actually wants him.
If a player feels that his coach has given up on him, can he still play for him? And if the coach has lost faith in his player, can he still coach him?
*Image: Sports Illustrated