The common theory regarding Malcolm Butler’s infamous Super Bowl benching was … well, nobody knew exactly, but it couldn’t be as simple as a football decision.
The New England Patriots coaches said repeatedly it was just a standard coaching move to bench their starting cornerback, who played all but a handful of snaps from Week 3 through the AFC championship game. They stuck to that plan and kept Butler on the bench even though it clearly wasn’t working in a 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
While the why still seems fuzzy, it seems that there was no undisclosed disciplinary reason for the move. Just a sudden benching. McCourty said that rumors Butler was benched for disciplinary reasons are “the furthest thing from the truth.”
“We all knew he wasn’t starting all week,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty told NJ Advance Media. “That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team.
“I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays. I just hate that for him character-wise going into free agency. It’s just not true. As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up.”
Butler didn’t have a great season, but he was good enough to play pretty much every snap for a team that won an AFC championship. Then in the Super Bowl he didn’t play at all on defense, even as replacement Eric Rowe struggled. Butler’s benching affected the entire defense, moving defensive backs around to different roles. It didn’t work. Nick Foles threw for 373 yards. The Patriots never tried using Butler on defense to stop the bleeding. The coaches said after the game that Butler wasn’t in because of game plan and matchup reasons, but nobody believed it because it seemed so crazy.
McCourty’s comment that everyone knew Butler wouldn’t start all week doesn’t align with Rowe, who said he didn’t know until right before the game that he would start. The Patriots are so paranoid about what to say to the media, it’s tough to tell what’s the truth.
Either way, Butler will leave via free agency. And his name will be remembered in New England for two very different reasons: For being the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, and for the Super Bowl LII benching that will never quite make sense.
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