Safford: Don’t Blame Malcolm Butler’s Absence For Superbowl Loss


I’ll say it: Malcolm Butler being benched was a non-factor in the Superbowl.

The Patriots defense didn’t fall apart. They never really were anything to begin with. After the first 6 games of the season, they were one of the worst defenses in the league.

By the end of the season they crept up to the middle of the pack but still had more than 20 teams that were their betters defensively. The fact was hidden by an endless parade of woeful quarterbacks lining up against them.

Making it to the playoffs with one of the top offenses and a middle of the pack defense isn’t going to win you a Superbowl. You get what you pay for.

You Get What You Buy

In 2017 LeGarrette Blount leave the team. Instead of looking towards a healthy Dion Lewis, and rising star James white, who was brilliant in the Superbowl the previous year, they went out and brought in more talent. Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead gave them the ability to mix things up. But neither won the job or stayed healthy. Those were stupid signings.

Malcolm Butler won New England a Superbowl with this play. But don’t blame his benching for this year’s loss.

Gronk is made of glass. So it made sense to bring in Dwayne Allen. Unfortunately, he stinks. They then brought an injured and angry Martelleus Bennett back, and saw equally depressing contributions.

Brandin Cooks is a star, but not a great fit for the team. Cooks is a speedster. He needs to be hit mid stride, and he needs to be a feature receiver to produce. Tom Brady and company have never been able to have a true number one wide receiver, with the exception of Randy Moss, (and we all remember how that ended).

Journeyman Kenny Britt and Phillip Dorset, another Indy junk grab, just never worked in New England last year.

Bad Personnel Moves

So to recap: they brought in 6 offensive failures and 1 misused superstar. Meanwhile, two rising star quarterbacks hit the road. With Andrew Luck likely to miss 2018 or possibly retire Brissett may have found a home in Indianapolis.  Jimmy Garoppolo became that highest paid single season player in NFL history. Why?

Why was all of this money so poorly spent on offensive failures when their defense was so awful during the first 6 games?

Brady has two or three years left in him. And that’s only if you spend spend spend on that O-line and keep him protected. I agree that keeping Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett was not an option. But why weren’t they traded when the market was better?

I’ve heard people say that the deals weren’t that good preseason for Jimmy G. But were they actively shopping him? What would Cleveland have offered? They went after Brock Osweiler, for what?

Mistaken Priorities

New England slept on their defense. They really had no business even being in a Superbowl with that lousy, no pass rush defense. With other teams losing key players to injury, running back by committee experiments failing, and a major quarterback drought in the league this year, the Pats rose to the top. Everyone else dealt with major catastrophe and New England just kept beating battered and bruised teams.

How many more years does Tom Brady really have left in him?

They were the cream of the crap. So what’s next?

It’s time to spend and invest. Bill Belichick doesn’t like to spotlight his players. Guys like Chris Hogan and Lewis are severely misused. He needs to stop doing that, and pick a few key players to build an offensive future around.

The Patriots needs to bring in a young Quarterback to be mentored. A draft pick would be nice, but a player like Paxton Lynch would be better. The rest of Paxtons draft class stepped up last year in Wentz and Goff, so why not Lynch? 

Cream of the Crap

They need to slim down to a feature back with a third down/change of pass back (either White or Lewis but not both). They also need to plan for the loss of Gronk, Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola over the next 3 years. They need to fill those gaps with youth.

Belichick knows how to win. I’m not a fan of his time management or his inability to feature offensive players with names that don’t rhyme with Grady or Bronkowski. His two minute drills that fall apart don’t fall apart due to failed execution. They fall apart due to poor time management and bad play calling.

Can Brady really make plays that elicit this type of response forever? Nope. Act Accordingly, James Safford warns.

Brady has been carrying that offense for too long. His days are numbered.


That’s why their offensive line and defense need to be their number one priority in the off season. They need to offload their offensive acquisitions from 2017. They should just get what they can get for them. Part ways with expensive players you can’t target 100 times in a season or give 200 rushes too (or a combination of both.)

Abandon the idea of having a change of pace offense based around having the best QB to ever play the game. Instead, why not just build an actual team?

If 2018 taught us anything, it should be that a Superbowl cannot be won by one man–even when he puts up 500 plus yards against one of the NFL’s top defenses. Without Tom Brady, the Patriots wouldn’t be better than the Cleveland Browns.

James Safford
James Safford is a member of the Scituate Land Trust and Conservation Commission. He has authored multiple books and sees politics though a bipartisan viewpoint. Send him email at