Malcolm Butler: Mystery Surrounds Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl Benching Of Star Cornerback
Malcolm Butler sat on the bench for virtually the entire Super Bowl, and no one seems to know why for sure. All taciturn New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has said so far is that the decision was made in the best interests of the team in the context of trying to win, which is his typical mantra, and was unrelated to any disciplinary issue.
It also apparently was a game-time decision, which is seemingly out of character for Belichick and his usually very well prepared coaching staff, particularly since Butler is generally considered one of the NFL’s best defenders. Against this backdrop, there is a lot of buzz that the presumed best NFL coach of all time was outcoached for once, in this instance by the less celebrated Doug Pederson, his Eagles counterpart, and that the Butler benching cost the Patriots the title.
[See Update below]
The cornerback’s benching was even more damaging perhaps to the Patriots’ chances in that the Philadelphia Eagles were able to move up and down the field at will against the Patriots’ defense as a whole en route to a 41-33 upset victory. “Backup” quarterback Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, went 28-43 in passing for 373 yards and three scores, plus a touchdown reception on a trick play. Despite the Patriots’ defensive woes in the big game, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia still managed to finalize his new job as Detroit Lions’ head coach.
As history has recorded, Malcolm Butler emerged as the hero of the 2015 Super Bowl when he dramatically intercepted a Russell Wilson pass at the goal line with 20 seconds left on the clock, preserving a Pats 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks. The decision to throw the ball rather than hand off to “beast mode” Marshawn Lynch for what would have been the winning points has haunted head coach Pete Carroll and the NFC team ever since.
Boston sports radio has been burning up with irate fans, along with show hosts, offering various theories about why Malcolm Butler didn’t play when he was needed the most. Butler told ESPN after Super Bowl LII that the Patriots gave up on him and it was the coach’s decision, adding that “I could have changed that game.”
NFL insider Ian Rapoport claimed that the Butler benching “is a complicated issue involving multiple factors, including showing up a day late in Minnesota because he was sick, having a bad week of practice, attitude issues, and a small violation of team rules that occurred earlier in the week,” WEEI reported.
Various explanations for the Butler benching, however, have generally been met with skepticism.
The decision to keep the popular Malcolm Butler on the sidelines has divided the typically buttoned-up Patriots locker room. Teammate Brandon Browner implied on Instagram it had something to with weed and that players who are favorites with the coaching staff (apparently not Butler) get second chances for rules infractions.
Superstar Tom Brady had a spectacular, and perhaps wasted, performance for the Patriots in the Super Bowl in his quest for a sixth ring. He was 28 for 48 for a total of 505 yards, the most yardage by a QB in Super Bowl history. He threw three touchdown passes, with no interceptions, and the Patriots remarkably were never forced to punt the ball away. In fact, there was only one punt in the entire game, that obviously by the Eagles. Against this backdrop, any gambler who took the under was way off the mark.
If caught in the end zone, which almost happened, Brady’s Hail Mary pass could have sent the game into overtime if the Patriots were successful on what could have been the most consequential two-point conversion attempt in NFL history.
My understanding is the benching of #Patriots CB Malcolm Butler happened because of a perfect storm of issues: Sickness, a rough week of practice, and a minor rule violation believed to be related to curfew. A complicated matter. pic.twitter.com/TmUJgkHpsZ
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 5, 2018
Malcolm Butler was on the field for about 98 percent of the New England Patriots’ 2017 regular season snaps and 100 percent of the downs in the playoffs up until Super Bowl LII, where he appeared for one snap with the special teams squad. Since Butler, an undrafted free agent from the University of West Alabama, is now an unrestricted professional football free agent, it is very unlikely that he will be a member of the New England Patriots next season.
However it was arrived, the consensus is that Bill Belichick made a crucial, potentially game-changing gaffe by keeping Malcolm Butler on the bench in the Super Bowl, given the team’s inability to stop the Eagles offense. This is ironic in that, as alluded to above, poor decision-making by the Seattle Seahawks under Pete Carroll, as well as the Atlanta Falcons under Dan Quinn, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in two previous Super Bowls, thereby handing victories to Brady/Belichick and co.
“We may never know exactly why Belichick decided to bench his most well-traveled cornerback in the biggest game of the year, though even the best coach in the league—and perhaps the best coach of all time—can be criticized for what looks like a crucial personnel mistake,” Bleacher Report concluded.
The sports industry is still probing into the reasoning for Bill Belichick’s benching of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl, so check back for updates as more details unfold or leak out.
Update: Malcom Butler posted a lengthy message on Instrgram which read, in part, that he would never do anything to hurt the Patriots’ chances of wining a game and that “During Super Bowl week I never attended any concert, missed curfew or participated [in] any of the ridiculous activities being reported. They are not only false, but hurtful to me and my family. Although I wish I could have contributed more to help my team win, I have to get ready for the next opportunity.”
Tom Brady responded that “Love you Malcolm. You are an incredible player and teammate and friend. Always!!!!!!”
— Boston 25 News (@boston25) February 6, 2018