The Butler Did What? Where?

It’s been two days since Malcolm Butler was the New England Patriots were shell-shocked in Super Bowl 52. The organization and their fervent supporters are still trying to figure out just what wrong inside U.S. Bank Stadium. It’s certainly going to take time for everyone involved to process the defeat. However, there’s plenty of takeaways that need to be discussed. On top of the list? Malcolm Butler’s shocking benching.

The Butler is Benched

By far, the biggest talking point following Sunday’s game continues to be the surprising benching of starting CB, Malcolm Butler. It’s a move that no one saw coming, and one that, quite frankly, is receiving a lot of criticism from fans, analysts, and players from around the league. And you know what? Second guessing this personnel decision is certainly warranted.

Up until the Super Bowl, Butler had been on the field for nearly every defensive snap of the season (97%). While his play may have been inconsistent throughout the season, he’s far and away a better option than Eric Rowe, Jordan Richards, and Johnson Bademosi.

Would the Patriots have won the game had Butler been on the field? It’s impossible to say. However, his presence would most certainly have had an impact.

Would He Have Made A Difference?

No question. If you think otherwise, you may want to put down the Patriots Kool-Aid and find yourself another refreshing beverage.

Butler’s presence would have served multiple purposes that may have limited the vaunted Eagles offensive attack. For one, Patricia would’ve been able to make a myriad of adjustments throughout the game that were unavailable to him due to the personnel on the field.

NBC Sports Boston commentator Mike Giardi tweeted last night that, in many cases, Butler’s replacements, specifically Jordan Richards, acted as a linebacker in most sets. He’s arguing that it’s impossible to say if Butler would have made a difference due to the packages called.

However, I believe that the ineffective formations on the field were because of Butler’s absence rather than any drawn-up plan that was to stop the Eagles in their tracks.

If that is the case, and if that’s how the Patriots wanted to defend Philadelphia, does that damage Belichick’s status as a defensive mastermind? Shouldn’t he have been able to recognize that it wasn’t working and make the necessary adjustments? Having Butler on the field would have allowed the Patricia and the Patriot defense to employ the play-calling that had helped turned that unit around during the 2nd half of the season.

The Butler Did What?

Yesterday, reports started trickling out detailing the events that MAY have led to Butler’s benching.

According to a Twitter used by the name of “Robot Dave,” Butler may have committed a number of egregious team violations throughout Super Bowl week.

Now, I don’t know who this Robot Dave character is or how he may have ascertained incriminating information that even well-respected journalists have been unable to get to this point. So do I put a lot of stock into this one tweet? No. Could some of it be true? Absolutely. However, from my perspective, this is one guy on Twitter looking to make a splash on the interwebs. Moving on…

Later in the day, Ian Rapoport, a journalist who has credibility in spades, tweeted out this report:

Rapoport’s report suggests that a toxic combination of factors led to Butler’s benching, including a “minor rule violation.” The Rap Sheet’s report drastically underplays the kind of scandalous behavior detailed in Robot Dave’s tweet. Author’s note: I hate referring to “tweets.”

Who Are We Supposed to Believe?

Well, I’m guessing the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned reports. While Robot Dave’s report seems grossly exaggerated, Minneapolis PD could have very well had a run-in with Butler. However, I think the drug use reference is more for added drama. I tend to lean toward Rapoport’s belief that all of the little issues Belichick was having with Butler boiled over on Super Bowl Sunday and led to his benching.

Does that make it the right call though? Let’s take a look at two of Belichick’s most notable postseason punishments from the past.

  • Chandler Jones smoked synthetic weed and ended up shirtless at his local police station. His punishment? The incident was mostly handled in-house, and Jones did see a slight reduction in snaps. Ultimately, however, he played in both playoff games that year.
  • Wes Welker brazenly violated the “Patriot Way” when he joked about Rex Ryan’s supposed foot fetish during the lead-up the Patriots-Jets 2011 Divisional Round Playoff Game. His punishment? He sat out the team’s first offensive drive.

While Butler may have deserved a consequence for selfish behavior, it does not appear that the punishment fit the crime.

Making Butler active and dressed for the game, only to sit on the sideline like a sad puppy, seems like cruel and unusual punishment, even for Bill Belichick.

Post-Game Reactions

Thus far, Head Coach Bill Belichick continues to offer up another one of his typically vague responses when questioned over the decision.

“We put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win.”

Shortly after the loss, Butler, understandably upset, was a bit more candid when asked by Mike Reiss and Adam Schefter of ESPN if he knew why he was forced to sit out the biggest game of the year.

Visibly shaken, Butler, the hero of Super Bowl 49, responded with a quick jab.

“They gave up on me. (Expletive). It is what it is.”

After taking a moment to compose himself, Butler continued.

“I guess I wasn’t playing good,” he said. “They didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know. But I could’ve changed that game.”

The media and NFL players continue to call out Belichick for his decision:

Rich Shertenlieb of “Toucher and Rich” : “Convince me that benching Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl isn’t the worst coaching decision Bill Belichick has ever made as head coach of Patriots.”

Stephen A. Smith (ESPN): “What Bill Belichick did to Malcolm Butler was an outright disgrace.”

Ty Law (former Patriot): “We need to get to the bottom of this Malcolm Butler situation, I’m baffled about this one. We needed that man on the field.”

Chris Carter (NFL Hall of Famer): This is one of the things about Bill Belichick…he’s very, very dismissive to players. And it came back to haunt him.”

What Now?

Considering the porous play of former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s squad, Butler certainly would have played a crucial role in helping to solidify a Patriots’ secondary that was clearly over-matched.

Heading into the offseason, it’s safe to say that Malcolm Butler has played his last game for New England. He’ll always be remembered for his game-saving interception in Super Bowl 49, along with his seemingly likable personality. Hopefully this benching does not wind up costing him what should be a highly lucrative free agent deal from another team.

Back in New England? Well, the Patriots clearly need to address their defense. They’ll need a shutdown corner opposite Gilmore to hold off offenses such as Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Minnesota next season. In addition, strengthening the front 7 will be essential as the inability to rush the quarterback has made mediocre passers look like Tom Brady.

In the end, Belichick’s decision to exclude Malcolm Butler from participating in Super Bowl 52 may very well end up ranking as his most second-guessed move of all time.

Well, aside from that asinine Garoppolo trade…

Until next time,

Ryan

 

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