Two words that will live in Patriot lore forever. As the Seahawks marched down the field in the closing moments of Super Bowl XLIX, an unheralded, undrafted rookie heard his number called. And he delivered. Malcolm Butler’s interception on the goal line sealed the victory for the Patriots as they won their fourth Super Bowl. After the play, Butler was helped off the field as he broke down in a fit of raw emotion following the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
However, in Super Bowl LII, with the Patriots in search of their sixth championship, Butler’s number was never called. The raw emotion this time came from the sidelines as Butler watched his teammates surrender 41 points to Nick Foles and the Eagles. A chance at a third ring was never in his control.
After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick claimed the decision to not play Butler was not disciplinary. In fact, he said that it was based on the gameplan. Butler had been dealing with a sickness earlier in the week but appeared healthy as the week progressed. Predictably, after only playing limited snaps on special teams, Butler was quick to leave the locker room.
“They gave up on me. F—. It is what it is,” Butler said via Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. “Don’t know what it was. I guess I wasn’t playing good or they didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know. But I could have changed that game.”
Eric Rowe said he didn’t know he was starting until right before game. Seemed as puzzled as rest of NE as to why no Malcolm Butler
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) February 5, 2018
What impact Butler could have had on the game we will never know. Foles and the Eagles offense were having their way with the Patriots defense, giving Patriots fans a flashback to the first month of the season. Despite the situation, “Strap”, the name given to him by his teammates, continued to exemplify his professionalism.
“He’s a great team player,” Rowe said. “After the first touchdown, he came up to me and said ‘Keep playing.’ He’s a great teammate.”
Butler’s relationship with the Patriots has been rocky over the past calendar year. When Butler was seeking a long-term deal, the Patriots would not commit. Instead, they threw a rich contract at cornerback, Stephon Gilmore. Butler likely saw this as a slight and it looked like he wouldn’t even be a member of the 2017 team. However, after trade talks with the Saints cooled, Butler returned to the Patriots and up until now, it seemed like the relationship between player and team had improved. If only slightly. Now, it is damaged beyond repair.
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Let’s be clear. It would have still been tough for the Patriots to re-sign Butler. Especially considering the sub-par year Butler had in 2017, the Patriots were likely to not come close to offering the money he was seeking. With that said, it could have been a more amicable departure for a player who will always be remembered fondly in New England. Now, if his reaction after the game was any indication, Butler will likely start packing as soon as he gets home.
Already faced with many questions entering the offseason, add the Butler benching to that this. Questions and second-guessing the decision will define the offseason as the Patriots look to pick up the pieces. Belichick and the coaching staff seem set on blaming the gameplan as the deciding factor. A stance not likely to waver.
Now, both player and team will move in another direction. The Patriots will add cornerback depth to their list of defensive fixes they will need to tackle this offseason. For Butler, he will now look to continue his career outside the six New England states.