By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are still plenty of questions surrounding Bill Belichick’s controversial decision to bench Malcolm Butler for Super Bowl LII, but we’re starting to get some clarity on the situation following New England’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, it was a “perfect storm of issues” that led to Butler playing no defensive snaps for the Patriots in their 41-33 loss. The cornerback’s illness from earlier in the week played a part, but so did a small violation of team rules.
“One thing that Bill Belichick said this morning was that a lot goes into it,” Rapoport said Monday on NFL Network’s Total Access. “And yes, from what I understand, there are several factors that led Malcolm Butler, one of the team’s top defensive players, to not be out on the field for the Super Bowl. Among those, he showed up a day later than teammates because he was sick. Remember, he was not at Opening Night. That was a factor. I’m also told that during practice this week he really struggled. Had a rough week of practice, perhaps because of illness, but maybe because of other things. That was one thing they had to consider in putting Eric Rowe out there instead of him.
“But I’m also told there were some other issues, disciplinary issues. There was a small or minor violation of team rules that happened earlier in the week that is one thing,” added Rapoport. “And then there are some attitudes, frustrations as well. All of this combined to put Malcolm Butler not on the field with his teammates trying to win the Super Bowl, but on the sideline watching.”
The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported on Tuesday that Belichick never gave Butler a reason for his benching:
Belichick informed Butler before kickoff that he wouldn’t play, but the reason wasn’t given, according to a source. Sources didn’t believe Belichick would bench Butler for personal reasons, and they also didn’t sense any contentiousness between the pair leading up to the game. Again, it’s a guessing game.
After playing 98 percent of New England’s defensive snaps during the regular season and 100 percent of them in their two previous playoff games, Butler was on the field for just one special teams snap in the Super Bowl. He took a backseat to Eric Rowe, who played 71 of 75 defensive snaps on Sunday night, with Jordan Richard (16) and Johnson Bademosi (11) seeing time in New England’s nickel packages.
Rowe told reporters after the game that he didn’t know he was getting the start until just before kickoff. Butler was seen crying on the sideline during the national anthem, and told reporters after the game that the Patriots gave up on him.
If Butler’s illness led to a sharp decrease in his play on the practice field, it’s an understandable move. But if it was over a minor rules violation, why not just sit him for a quarter — or at least put him in when it was clear the Patriots’ defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed? The benching backfired in a big way for Belichick, as Nick Foles and the Eagles offense picked apart the Patriots’ defense to the tune of 538 yards. The Patriots struggled to get off the field on third down thanks to a number of missed tackles, converting 10 of their 16 third down tries. The Eagles also went two-for-two on fourth down.
It’s certainly a decision Belichick won’t live down anytime soon, and the coach hasn’t offered much clarity on the situation. We still don’t know the exact details surrounding the decision, and probably won’t for some time.