Patriots: Revisiting the Malcolm Butler benching in Super Bowl LII

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Head coach Bill Belichick reacts after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Head coach Bill Belichick reacts after the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

It’s been over three years since Bill Belichick benched Pro Bowl CB Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII, and Patriots fans have still not heard an explanation why.

Malcolm Butler was, at the time, four years removed from arguably the greatest defensive played in Super Bowl history against Seattle, and two years removed from a Pro Bowl season.

In the 2017-2018 season, Butler and recently acquired CB Stephon Gilmore led the Patriots to a 14-2 regular season record and the fifth-best scoring defense in the league as a top CB duo.

But as the starting lineup for the biggest Patriots game of the year was displayed on the NBC telecast, Butler was no where to be seen…until the cameras cut to the very confused and angry CB on the bench.

As all Patriots fans reluctantly remember, the Eagles would go on to beat the Patriots 41-33, with backup QB Nick Foles picking apart the Pats defense with 373 yards and 3 TDs.

If the Patriots won Super Bowl LII, or if they had even lost a somewhat low-scoring game, maybe the decision to bench Butler would be somewhat forgotten. However, the Pats lost in a shootout where their secondary was torn up by a career backup and Tom Brady finished with over 500 yards in a loss.

After the game, Patriots players, especially Butler, expressed their confusion and disapproval with Coach Belichick’s decision. Butler didn’t hold back, telling ESPN reporter Mike Reiss, “They gave up on me. F—. It is what it is.”

Tom Brady told the media, “Well, I don’t make those decisions. I wish he would’ve played, but the coach didn’t play him, and we still had a chance to win.” LB Rob Ninkovich also stated:

"“I mean, if it was discipline, I don’t know if that is the best way to go about it. At the end of the day you have to have your best players on the field, and you question if Malcolm not being on the field is the best option to win the football game.”"

As expected, when coach Belichick was asked why his star CB was benched in the biggest game of the year he gave zero explanation saying, “We put the players and game plan out there that we thought would be the best, like we always do.” This non-answer left Pats nation even more angry at Belichick’s decision.

In the three years following, all Patriots fans have been left with are conspiracy theories: Butler was sick and was not ready to play. Butler had missed practice. He had violated team rules by going out the night before and was being punished (the game was played in Minnesota in February).

Although, when we really take a step back and look at the situation, it is a testament to Coach Belichick and the Patriots’ ability to keep everything and anything in house. After one of the most controversial coaching decisions in NFL history, Belichick has not allowed anyone to leak why Butler was benched.

At the very least, we can assume that Coach Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia know why Butler was benched. Even with Patricia fleeing to a head coaching job in Detroit that offseason, he never spoke a word. You could also assume that team owner Robert Kraft would love to hear an explanation as to why his star CB was benched, but even he was allegedly kept in the dark.

Year after year the Patriots are able to keep essentially all team conflict in house, beginning with Belichick preaching the message that the media is the enemy. This story stands at the top of examples showing how private the Patriots organization really is.

At the time, the Patriots were 10 and seven years removed from two gut-wrenching Super Bowl losses to the Giants. The first loss ended what could have been a 19-0 perfect season on what most of Pats nation believes is the luckiest play in Super Bowl history. Nothing can compare to the 2008 loss against New York, but in a way, losing by “shooting yourself in the foot” stings just as much.

Three years later, the Super Bowl LII loss to Philadelphia still hurts because it was Bill Belichick who took the ring off the Patriots’ fingers. The man who dug the Patriots organization out of so many holes before was, to many Patriots fans, responsible for the loss against the Eagles.

What stings even more is knowing that we still have no reason why it happened. Who knows?Maybe in 10 years, when Bill Belichick finally decides to call it a career, he will come out with a book explaining the benching of Malcolm Butler and the many unsolved mysteries of the Patriots dynasty.