By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — All of the NFL’s top decision-makers have descended upon Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine, and that group includes new Lions head coach Matt Patricia.
Patricia has a lot of work to do for his own team, but while speaking with the media on Wednesday, he was obviously asked about arguably the most controversial decision in Patriots history: the decision to not use Malcolm Butler on defense in the Super Bowl.
Though Patricia was presumably in charge of running the defense as the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for that Super Bowl loss, he deferred to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to handle that matter.
“As far as the Patriots are concerned, and this is really how I feel about it, I’m going to be extremely respectful to Coach Belichick and his organization, and I’m going to let him answer any questions that have to do with the Patriots,” Patricia said, according to NESN’s Doug Kyed. “I have obviously a lot of love for New England, but I have a new team.”
Patricia did, however, state publicly that he unequivocally loves Butler.
“I would characterize my relationship with Malcolm as extremely strong. I love Malcolm a lot,” Patricia said, per NESN. “He’s like — like all of my players — like one of my sons. I make sure that he does everything to the best, and I hope for the best for him. And that’s really all I’m going to say about Malcolm.”
The answers on Wednesday are not entirely different from what Patricia said immediately after the Patriots lost to the Eagles, 41-33, on a night when the team used Butler for zero defensive snaps after he had taken every single snap in the postseason prior to that game and 97.8 percent of the team’s regular-season snaps.
“We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had. Different situations came up, and we were just trying to move some things around,” Patricia said in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4. “We just tried to play all the packages that we could to put everybody out there. He was active for the game and anybody that is active for the game is ready to go. We just had a situation where we had some matchups and packages that we went with.”
It was a message Patricia repeated ad nauseam when asked about Butler after the loss. The closest he came to suggesting that he did not make the decision himself was when he said, “I just feel really bad for our guys and that we didn’t put them in a situation that allowed them to be successful in the game.”
The feeling from Patricia’s repetitive comments about “running certain packages” was that the decision was out of his hands. But someone in the position of Patricia, who had spent 14 years working for Belichick, would certainly not want to burn any bridges upon leaving the Patriots organization and taking his first head coaching job in the NFL.
Now that he’s a few weeks into the job in Detroit, Patricia is taking the same tack.