By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been more than two weeks since Malcolm Butler mysteriously and oddly stayed stuck on the Patriots’ sideline for every single defensive snap of Super Bowl LII, and it remains one of the greatest mysteries in Patriots history.
The whole world is still waiting to hear head coach Bill Belichick’s full reasoning for benching the player who took the most defensive snaps during the regular season and took 100 percent of the snaps in the two playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. But realistically, that explanation might never come.
But small details will likely continue to trickle out, and that’s what happened on Monday when Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty spoke to Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com.
“We all knew he wasn’t starting all week,” McCourty said of Butler. “That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team.”
That part of the equation was already known, but only somewhat. In the moments after the Patriots lost to the Eagles, cornerback Eric Rowe spoke to the media. He said that he didn’t know ahead of time that he’d be starting, but he also said he practiced all week as the No. 2 corner, with Stephon Gilmore as the No. 1. Rowe was asked directly if players expected Butler to not play all night, and Rowe said, “No, that wasn’t the plan.” Rowe also said that Butler practiced throughout the week, and he said that he didn’t know he’d be starting the Super Bowl until just before kickoff.
But according to McCourty, it was known to players on the team that Butler at the very least was not going to be starting in the game.
McCourty also debunked any theories that suggested Butler’s benching came after nights of partying or missing curfew throughout the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
“I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays,” McCourty told NJ.com. “It’s just not true. As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up. … It sucked for him. He put a lot of time and effort in. However it falls, the last thing you want to do is not play a snap. To me, the worst part was to see all that stuff come out after.”
None of McCourty’s comments to NJ.com address the captain’s thoughts on Butler not getting into the game at all, after it became apparent that the game plan proved to be a misjudgment on the part of Belichick and the coaching staff.
After the Patriots lost 41-33 in the game, Belichick remained mostly tight-lipped about his decision. Belichick said Butler’s benching was not a disciplinary issue, and he answered affirmatively when asked if it was strictly a football decision. When asked about the decision the next day on a conference call with reporters, Belichick simply said, “I appreciate the question, but it would be a much longer discussion. There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”