Nearly 24 hours have passed since Super Bowl LII kicked off, and we still don’t know why Malcolm Butler, a former Super Bowl hero and one of the Patriots’ best defensive players, did not play on defense in the New England loss.
In fact, Butler’s abrupt benching seems to become more of a mystery the more time that passes. Here’s what we know about the situation:
- After playing in 97.8 percent of defensive snaps during the regular season, Butler did not play a single down on defense Sunday, with Eric Rowe taking his place. Butler did play one snap on punt coverage.
- Butler was caught on camera crying during America the Beautiful. At the time, the reasons were unclear, but in retrospect the emotion could have related to his benching.
- The Eagles happily targeted Rowe on their way to a 41-33 victory, with one anonymous Philadelphia assistant acknowledging after the game that Rowe vs. Alshon Jeffery was “a mismatch.”
- After the game, coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia both dodged questions about Butler, saying essentially that they did what they felt gave the team the best chance to win.
- Belichick did say Sunday night that Butler’s benching was for football reasons, not disciplinary ones.
- On Monday, Belichick offered a hopelessly vague response to a question about Butler: “There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”
- Butler told ESPN’s Mike Reiss that the Patriots “gave up on me” and that “I could have changed that game.”
- Rowe reportedly practiced with the New England’s first team all week but did not know he would actually start until shortly before the game began.
- Rumors are flying about the “real” reason behind the benching. Pro Football Focus writer Joey Cartolano tweeted that Butler “missed curfew, got caught with weed when he came back late to hotel, and subsequently had a meltdown on coaches.” But Cartolano acknowledges that he’s not a reporter, and his source “in law enforcement” seems dubious. How would someone in law enforcement know about curfew or a meltdown with coaches?
- Former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner posted to Instagram that “He not the first to get caught with weed,” explaining that the Patriots don’t mess around with team rules.
- Few things in the world could turn New England against Bill Belichick, but benching one of his best players, watching the back-up get torched, then failing to explain the decision seems to be angering Patriot Nation.
It’s somewhat surprising that a satisfying explanation hasn’t leaked yet. Either Butler’s benching was justified by some horrible behavior or secret injury, in which case the Patriots would be wise to reveal their reasoning, or Belichick’s decision was rash and inexplicable, in which case there must be someone angry enough to tell the world what happened. For now, however, we’re left to speculate about why New England would sit one of its best, most reliable players — and whether that decision cost Belichick and company a Super Bowl ring.