In the aftermath of the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, a lot of time, energy and words have been spent on roasting Bill Belichick for his decision not to play Malcolm Butler.
Could the Super Bowl XLIX hero have helped the Patriots’ defense? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s not really the point.
The Patriots had the ball with a chance to win the game with 2:20 remaining, and turned the ball over (New England lost the turnover battle with a fumble, a missed field goal and a failed fourth-down play, and the Eagles only had an interception which acted as a good punt).
But, yes, the Patriots defense could have made one more play to win the game, basically at any point. And, yes, Butler could have made one more play.
In my opinion, it’s way too easy to pin the defensive struggles on missing one player. After reviewing the TV and coaches film copy of the game, there are plenty of second guesses that have little to do with Butler.
They are, in order:
Marquis Flowers' role in the third-down defense
As the regular season advanced, former Bengals special teams linebacker Marquis Flowers became an important role player for the defense. Using the speed that made him such a valuable contributor on special teams, the Patriots put him to use spying athletic quarterbacks, covering running backs out of the backfield, and occasionally rushing the passer on blitzes.
In facing the Eagles, you figured Flowers would be an essential part of the third-down package — at least covering running backs — but he wouldn't be needed to spy the slow-footed Foles.
Flowers was indeed in on the Patriots' third-down (or long-yardage) package, playing some 17 plays (he's listed as playing 16). His role, however, was a major head-scratcher.
Basically, before you even get to the Butler situation, the Patriots' decisions with Flowers had them, in essence, playing with 10 players even before the ball was snapped.
Here are his plays, responsibilities and results.