One of the questions remaining from the New England Patriots' loss against the Philadelphia Eagles that will linger for a long time is the benching of cornerback Malcolm Butler. After he had been on the field for more than 97% of his team's defensive snaps over the course of the season, the veteran did not even play a single snap on defense in Super Bowl LII.
Although the unit was routinely getting torched by its opponent, Butler remained on the sidelines – even when just a single defensive stop in the fourth quarter could have sealed the game for New England. As usual, commentary from the Patriots on the matter is quasi non-existent, with head coach Bill Belichick calling it a “football decision” and one that fell under the oft-used category of “what's best for the team”.
One thing Belichick did say is that a lot went into the decision. According to a recent report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport it was a “perfect storm of issues” and “a complicated matter”:
From what I understand, there are several factors that led Malcolm Butler, one of the team's top defensive players, to not be on the field during the Super Bowl. Among those: He showed up a day later than his teammates because he was sick – remember, he was not at opening night. That was a factor.
I'm also told that during practice this week he really struggled, had a rough week of practice perhaps because of illness but maybe because of other things. That was one thing they had to consider in putting Eric Rowe out there instead of him. And I'm also told there were some other issues, disciplinary issues.
There was a small, a minor violation of team rules that happened earlier in the week; that is one thing. And then there's some attitudes, frustrations as well. All of this combined put Malcolm Butler not on the field with his teammates to win the Super Bowl but on the sidelines, watching.
Rapoport's report is nothing entirely new. Defensive captain Devin McCourty, for example, said after the game that the team knew Malcolm Butler was not going to be heavily involved if at all. Other reports noted that the hero of Super Bowl XLIX was demoted last week and only was active as a last-string emergency option because the Patriots lacked cornerback depth in case of injury.
Whatever the reasons are, they will likely remain locked away in the Foxboro vault for a long time. And thus, the speculation as to why one of New England's starting cornerbacks was a virtual no-show as well as the questioning of the decision will continue.