Today is not a good day to be a Patriots’ fan.
You’ve got the Super Bowl flu and the only cure is Tom Brady level of hydration. Football season is over. And doesn’t start again for seven long months.
Oh, and the team just suffered perhaps the most confounding loss since, well, I don’t know. Maybe the 20-18 loss to Denver in the AFC Championship game that should have been in Foxboro in 2015?
You can accept getting beat (Giants in the year that shall not be named) or deal with seeing a guy not make a catch (Welker vs. NYG), or come to grips with a loss knowing you have an awful roster (vs. Broncos in 2013). Sunday’s loss hurts because of the unanswered questions, namely “Where the hell was Malcolm Butler.”
Butler was on the sidelines save for a second-quarter play on a punt return. Not exactly where we’d thought we’d see the man who made perhaps the biggest play in Super Bowl history with his goal-line interception three years ago against Seattle.
From Hero to Zero
That night the coaches were saying “Malcolm, go,” but “Malcolm, no” wasn’t what we expected Sunday against an Eagles team loaded with offensive talent against a Patriots’ defense that had fewer defensive weapons than an Occupy Wall Street protest.
We don’t know why he was benched. You think Bill Belichick was going to specify? His lock-and-stock answer of doing what was best for the team wasn’t a shock. Matt Patricia saying he wasn’t a part of the defensive groupings was a little surprising though.
So that leads to theories. And if you take part in Patriots Twitter or listen to sports talk radio, there’s a lot of unsubstantiated stuff ranging from weed, to disciplinary reasons, to Belichick benching him out of spite.
The truth is somewhere out there, so let’s go over the possibilities.
OPTION ONE: Curfew, not just for teenagers
Several reports from football reporters who actually do things like “find credible sources” and “check their information before wildly tweet things to get people all up in arms” have it like this; Butler had a rough practice week, he missed curfew – Ian Rapoport reported Butler was late because he attended a Rick Ross concert, which means Butler didn’t get the deeper meaning behind Rozay’s “Hustlin’” – and got himself benched.
This is the toughest one to deal with because to us, the non-football playing Patriots, we have no qualms about showing up to work late and don’t see why Belichick should either.
Now the question here is, if this was the case why wouldn’t the Patriots send him home. The answer is simply this: they couldn’t. The only cornerbacks they had Sunday were Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe (who won me a bunch of money on DraftKings by covering receivers I’d pick) and Jonathan Bademosi (more like Badatcovering, amirite?). If injuries hit Belichick would be forced to play Butler simply based on the numbers unless he wanted to get really spiteful and play Danny Amendola before Butler.
The other problem people have with this option is does the punishment fit the crime. The simple answer is it doesn’t matter. If Malcolm Butler showed up on time and Eric Rowe was the one missing curfew, we’d praise Belichick for sticking to his guns and not playing the worst cornerback on his team. Just because Butler has actual NFL talent doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply.
The truth of what happened is somewhere in here, but let’s go find some other reasons because let me tell you – sports talk radio wouldn’t have survived with some WILD theories today.
OPTION TWO: The Sticky Icky
Just about lunchtime came a report – and by “report” I mean tweet from a guy with zero credibility, who writes for a website that actually carries some weight – that Butler was caught with weed, the cops might have been involved, missed curfew (running theme, BTW) and when confronted by the coaches Butler lost his mind and got benched.
This is probably the juiciest of the bunch, mainly because it could potentially involve police and drugs which would mean if there are no charges, the Patriots talked the cops off of a drug charge and literally got away with a crime.
I don’t like this one. Regardless of your stance on weed – it’s no worse than booze folks, get over yourselves – Butler shouldn’t be high as a kite missing curfew on Super Bowl Week. As much fun as this would be if it were true, I can’t see something this juicy not getting out earlier.
OPTION THREE: Bill Belichick wanted to strike Butler down with a sword of vengeful hate
Mike Felger talked about this for far more time than it deserved but there is some sort of pleasure thinking about spiteful Belichick benching his No. 2 cornerback because he wouldn’t sign a cheap contract before the season started. The fact that the No. 1 radio host in New England thought this was a possibility meant that he thought Belichick was more interested in ruining Butler’s reputation than winning the Super Bowl.
There’s a 50/50 shot Belichick is a robot sent from the future to coach football, but the idea anyone could think that the greatest coach in NFL history would start his worst cornerback over Butler out of spite is insane.
OPTION FOUR: The Patriots Couldn’t Trust Him
So this steals from the curfew idea and comes right out of my hungover brain – what if Belichick tells Butler in the locker room that he’s going to be benched for the first quarter of the Super Bowl because he missed curfew and in a fit of rage, Butler starts screaming how he wants to play, he deserves to play, blah, blah, blah.
Belichick doesn’t blink, says he’s benched. Butler yells about it being another chance to prove Bill wrong. He wants to prove he’s worth the money he wants when the season’s over. Belichick says something about him not being worth what he thinks he is and being late and missing practice proves it, then Butler responds with something like “well you better just bench me then because who knows what will happen if I’m out there anyway, maybe I’ll blow an assignment out there.”
He says it in rage, but the words resonate with Belichick. Can he actually trust a guy who might make a bad play on purpose? So the game starts and Belichick decides he’s not playing Butler unless he has to. Does this sound crazy?
Yeah, I know. Sorry, one Coors Light too many last night.
OPTION FIVE: Butler stinks
It’s no secret Malcolm Butler struggled this season. He had some strong games, but it wasn’t the Butler we saw last year.
Butler shines in man-to-man when he bullies receivers but struggles against guys with speed. With Gilmore on Alshon Jeffrey, could Butler be counted on to cover deep threat Torrey Smith or Nelson Agholor, the Eagles shifty slot receiver?
Or is it also entirely possible that all those “communication issues” being blamed on Gilmore at the start of the season weren’t Gilmore? Teams were running bunch formations at the Patriots with success until, for some uncertain reason (bad coaching) they just stopped. Is it possible Butler was benched for the first quarter and when Belichick saw the Eagles firing out in bunch formation after bunch formation he told Patricia “Malcolm can’t play?”
Of all the options, this would be the most difficult to prove because it would require the Patriots’ coaching staff to publicly evaluate their own players, something that never happens. But don’t discount it – Butler struggled and if he had a tough week in practice vs. these types of formations, it wouldn’t shock me if a one-quarter suspension turned into a full game simply because Butler couldn’t do his job.
Which is True?
So when will we find the truth? My guess is right before free agency officially begins because I cannot see any formula where Malcolm Butler re-signs with the Patriots. Kinda hard to come back from being benched in the biggest game of the season to be like “yeah, sure I’ll take an under-market multi-year deal and face the man who might have cost me another chance to be a Super Bowl hero on a daily basis. You want me to sign that in ink or blood?” Butler will want to get his side out once free agency hits so unless Belichick retires and Brian Flores gets named head coach (that’s a conspiracy for another day) we’re going to have to wait.