One of the great mysteries in New England Patriots history is what exactly happened to Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII. Despite starting every game for New England up until that point, Butler was benched for their tussle with the Philadelphia Eagles, and replacement Eric Rowe was shredded by Nick Foles in the upset win.
Bill Belichick has never given a clear reason as to why Butler was suddenly put on the bench, leading everyone else around that team to connect the dots and figure out exactly why New England would subvert their own strategy to such an insane degree.
James Harrison, who was picked up by New England in order to give their pass rush some extra teeth in that playoff push, has his own theory about why Butler had to sit on the bench for most of the game.
It relates more to Belichick trying to outsmart the Eagles rather than anything Butler of his own accord.
Harrison claimed that any rumors that hinted Butler was disciplined for breaking curfew or general poor behavior are complete nonsense, as he thinks the benching is simply a case of Belichick believing that Rowe would be a better matchup against Philadelphia.
You believe that?
Patriots: James Harrison squashed some Malcolm Butler rumors
"“I think that they just actually thought that he just didn’t have it,” Harrison said. “I think that was a part of the process. All this stuff that came out, ‘Oh he was out there doing this. He was doing that.’ That’s a crock of (expletive). That’s not true.”"
Foles threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns against Rowe and the Patriots, as Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz just overwhelmed the New England defense.
While Butler didn’t live up to the hype after he left the Patriots for a massive payday in Tennessee, the defense was clearly succeeding with him as one of the top cornerbacks, and if Belichick believed that Rowe was going to be the better corner against Philadelphia despite weeks of evidence to the contrary, that’s concerning.
This decision all but ended Butler’s status as a marquee cornerback in this league. After flopping in Tennessee and grading as one of the worst starting corners in the game, Butler, who signed with the Cardinals this offseason, was officially placed on the reserve/retired list, ending his career.
Until Belichick speaks out and gives a definitive answer as to why he did what he did, which may never come, all that fans and former players can do is come up with their own theories as to why Butler was benched. Harrison’s postulation that it was strictly a personnel move meant to win the game might have more legs behind it than most of these guesses.