5 of the biggest what-ifs for the Patriots during the Bill Belichick era

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New England Patriots
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New England Patriots / Adam Glanzman/GettyImages
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What if Bill Belichick never benched Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl 52?

The Patriots kicked off what would become the second half of their two-decade dynasty with a lot of steam, winning Super Bowl XLIX over the Seahawks in historic fashion. It had been ten years since they won their last, despite representing the AFC in two Championship games during that time.

The final minutes of that game in Glendale catapulted undrafted rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler into immediate stardom. He accomplished the unthinkable against a high-powered Seattle offense by picking off Russell Wilson in the end zone to seal the win for New England.

His face was plastered all over newspapers and media broadcasts for weeks after the game, and his performance in the years after made his stock rise within the league.

Butler became one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, joining the long list of UDFAs who were successful under Bill Belichick's coaching. That made it all the more confusing when he was noticeably absent from the field for any defensive snap during Super Bowl LII three years later.

In fact, he was only used for one special teams play in the game against the Eagles, where Tom Brady set new quarterback records and the defense was a complete letdown, prompting many to believe Butler could have made a significant difference had he been used.

Once the game was over and the Patriots inevitably lost, mainly due to an underperforming defense, among other controversies, Belichick would not address why he chose to bench Butler for the game. Rumors spread about the reason, but to this day, there's no clear-cut answer as to why one of the better cornerbacks on the team was on the sideline and not on the field.

It will forever be a question lingering in the minds of Patriots fans, especially considering the team could have won four Super Bowls in five years to further cement their dominance and legacies since Belichick's arrival.