Coming off a disappointing performance against the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots’ defense had to get back on track quickly if the team wanted to stand any chance against the Arizona Cardinals and their explosive offense. Needless to say that they did: the unit held the Cardinals in check for most of the game, and while not perfect, bounced back nicely from the loss in Houston.
One key reason for that was the team’s play up front, with one defender standing out in particular: fourth-year defensive tackle Adam Butler was a one-man wrecking crew against Arizona and involved in some of the biggest plays of the Patriots’ 20-17 win.
In the third quarter, for example, he tipped a pass attempt by Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray to set up an Adrian Phillips interception and subsequent touchdown drive by New England’s offense. He also registered a 9-yard sack on the next series to force a three-and-out, and added a pair of additional hits against Arizona’s QB.
On top of it all, Butler also helped tackle KeeSean Johnson short of the goal line in the late second quarter. On the ensuing goal-line stand right before the half, he also was part of the Patriots’ short-yardage defense that kept the Cardinals out of the end zone and the game within three points heading into the locker room.
Long story short, Butler was a difference-maker for New England throughout the day. After the team’s victory, he spoke about his ability to contribute despite having struggled to stay healthy throughout much of the regular season thus far.
“I’ve had some challenges throughout the season. It’s no secret I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury. I’ve just been fighting like hell to get back, it’s really tough to be yourself when you’re in a position like that — for anybody,” Butler said. “I was really pleased with my performance today, but it’s all about the team. It’s all about getting wins here and I know that everybody’s counting on me to step up and do my job.”
The shoulder injury Butler mentioned first popped up leading into the Patriots’ Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks. While the issue had him listed on the practice report for six consecutive weeks, it wasn’t until last Sunday’s game in Houston that the 26-year-old had to actually miss an entire contest because of it: Butler’s shoulder ailment reappeared on the injury list and he subsequently was ruled out.
But even though he was again deemed questionable heading into Cardinals weekend, he was able to make the game day squad — and more: Butler played arguably one of the best games of his career.
“We missed Adam last week,” acknowledged Patriots head coach Bill Belichick during his postgame media conference call on Sunday. “Adam did a real good job of penetrating the inside part of the pocket. I think that certainly helped our pass defense, not just the sack but some disruptive plays in there. Just made it a little tougher for them to execute the passing game. He did a nice job.
“He’s good at that. He’s good at penetrating the inside part of the pocket. When we have that for him, it makes a big difference for our defense in those passing situations.”
That was indeed the case. With Butler playing 47 of a possible 74 defensive snaps and serving as a top-three interior lineman alongside Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr, New England’s defense was able to contain one of the most potent rushing attacks in the NFL and put consistent pressure on as good a dual-threat quarterback as there is in football today.
“Just going into this game, I felt like it was important to get vertical in the pocket and make [Kyler Murray] feel uncomfortable. So, my goal the entire game was to affect him. I’m just glad everything worked out,” said Butler before pointing out that his performance was just one part of the greater whole. “I feel like we competed the whole time. We gave it everything we had for four quarters, and that’s what it takes in this league to win.”
While New England did have some personnel and performance issues along its interior defensive line this year — offseason acquisition Beau Allen’s season ended before he even played a snap; Carl Davis is currently on injured reserve — having Butler available and at close to full strength is good news for the team heading into the homestretch of the season.