NASHVILLE — Thanks to radio hosts who either don't remember things that happened 9 months ago, don't care and have their own narratives to feed, or some combination of the two, my position on Malcolm Butler's benching in the Super Bowl has been misconstrued, so I figured I would set the record straight.
What I said on Feb. 6, two days after the Super Bowl:
"Everyone's saying the Butler decision cost them the Super Bowl. I'm not willing to do that. Malcolm Butler's struggles this year aren't anything new, we've been talking about it all year, since training camp. I wrote about it in December and we talked about it, about how it was coming to a head, that Butler could end up on the bench. I didn't think it would be Super Bowl week, but it ended up happening. ... Eric Rowe has been a good player for this team. I don't know, all of a sudden it seems like everyone is making Butler to be Deion Sanders when he has struggled this year. ... If I'm going to have an issue with Belichick in this game, I don't have an issue with him sitting for a half or whatever. But to come out in the second half and bring out Bademosi, that I don't understand.
(On not deactivating/sending Butler home): "I think part of the issue was it got so late in the week, Bill didn't have a choice. The alternative was, send him home, and sign whoever on the practice squad when he hasn't been practicing in the scheme the entire week ... all of a sudden the night before the Super Bowl you're going to sign him to the active roster and throw him out there? Or do you say, 'Worse comes to worse, if we keep having injuries, then we're going to put Butler in.'"
"Until we hear the reason for the benching, I'm not ripping Bill for it.
"I reject the talk, 'Well, the Butler decision cost them the Super Bowl.' I reject that. There's way too many plays in the game. The Patriots turned the ball over three times: the fumble, the missed field goal, the fourth down. The Eagles turned it over once, and it didn't even hurt them. Let's not absolve the offense either. I know they had 600 yards, but they had 350-something yards in the first half and 12 points. We talk all year it's not about yards, it's about points. Well, the offense failed in the first half.
"Rowe told some reporters after the game he was starting all week. I could see that. I could see Gilmore and Rowe as the starting corners because Malcolm has been undisciplined all year and (Philadelphia) is one of the key teams where you have to be disciplined. You can't be looking into the backfield like he has been all year, trying to make hero plays. So I could see them sitting him because he wouldn't be a good matchup for Torrey Smith and (Alshon) Jeffrey. Now, the slot, that's where Butler was probably ... that's the whole thing, (Nelson) Agoholor, what are you going to do with him? Butler had to be the guy on him, at least in the gameplan for a while. Once you move Chung to him, then all of a sudden it's a trickle-down effect and Jordan Richards has to cover Zach Ertz?
"Let's play this out and something happened on Thursday, Friday, Saturday night. Thursday they are done (with prep). They don't really do anything on Friday or Saturday. What are they supposed to do, sign Joe Blow from the practice squad, who hasn't come close to the roster or practicing? That's what they're supposed to do?
What I said on Tuesday...
"I said he deserved to be benched in the Super Bowl. It was building to that. I didn't think it would be in the Super Bowl but it did not surprise me that Bill benched him in the Super Bowl at some point because this is the way he played last year and no one wanted to say it.
"I feel vindicated that I wrote about his struggles, that getting benched was on the table. (For the whole game?) Maybe.
"He was playing like crap the whole year. Just because they don't have any other corners — Jonathan Jones got hurt, Eric Rowe's on half a groin — they, whatever...
"If Bill thought that, he could have benched him just on his play. ... I probably would have brought him in in the second half. ... Look, on top of his play and then he (I was going to say got in some sort of trouble but Felger interrupted) ... Why, so he could have gotten roasted like he did (against the Cowboys on Monday night)? Bill was right. Whatever has happened in Tennessee, it just shows he was justified putting Malcolm on the bench. (The entire Super Bowl?) Yes, sure, whatever. (You've never said this before) Well, certainly his play this year has made me feel more strongly about it. ... Bill was right."
Some have brought up an interview with WBZ around the same time where I said this:
"I could understand benching him for performance reasons for part of the game," Bedard said. "Sitting him for the entire game when people are getting toasted on defense? I'm sorry, that just doesn't add up, and it's not a good enough explanation."
Yes, I said that. What's important is the context. I was asked about Adam Schefter's report that it was purely performance-based. I never believed that (at least about the second half). And I said that explanation via Schefter is not good enough.
I went on to explain what has been my viewpoint the entire time:
"I believe that, at some point in time, he was told that he was not starting, that he was not in certain packages, that he wasn't going to play a ton, and he must have said something to somebody," he said. "I don't blame him -- he had earned the right to play in the Super Bowl for all he's done with this team. Bill Belichick felt otherwise, it's his team, he's entitled to do that, but Malcolm's human, and if he popped off, that happens. But there's no other explanation other than something else went on for him to sit for the entire Super Bowl."
How is any of that different than what I said on Tuesday? Now, maybe I didn't explain that clearly on Tuesday, but I was ambushed with talk about me changing my story because Felger's an idiot.
WHAT I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED ON BUTLER
NOTE: I know the "reason" that Felger has alluded to but not disclosed. I haven't heard that from anyone else, but if it's something along those lines, then Belichick's decision was not warranted. But until that's reported, I'm sticking with what I have always believed:
- With the extra week to prepare and with his season-long struggles and issues in both playoff games, the Patriots decided that Butler was too undisciplined to start in the Super Bowl against an Eagles team who's entire scheme is predicated on making the defense react to fakes and then throwing over the top of them. Also, with free agency ahead of him, Butler would be even more aggressive trying to make a play to cash in. Belichick didn't want to take that risk and, yes, he probably was sore from all the contract stuff.
- Gilmore and Rowe would start, and Butler would play in the slot as the nickel corner.
- Butler's disappointment may have factored in to his "illness" and the team might have thought he was faking or being dramatic. A downtrodden Butler continued to practice poorly in Minnesota and at some point later in the week, he popped off to a coach (or worse) and/or was out when he shouldn't have been.
- That was the final straw. To avoid a big distraction and media reports ahead of the game, Butler was not sent home and he wasn't informed of the outright benching until prior to the game. He was in uniform and available only in the case of injury.
- Butler was not sent home/deactivated both because of the potential distraction, but also because it was too late in the week to sign anyone to the active roster. There were no other defensive backs on the roster, so Butler had to dress in case of injury. Belichick not having other options is a fair criticism.
- Butler has had every opportunity to set the record straight and clear his name after signing with the Titans but has declined to do so. Why? Because he knows Belichick's actions were warranted and he was wrong.
- No healthy defensive player — especially in the secondary — has ever stuck up for Butler or said he was wronged in the Super Bowl. Offensive players have no idea what's going on with the defense.
- Butler's struggles in Tennessee have proven Belichick's initial decision to demote Butler — which then set off a chain reaction — was correct. He's too undisciplined to play against the best offenses and more sophisticated passing games.
- Do you still believe that Butler "would have made a difference" in the Super Bowl? Butler played this year against the Eagles and allowed a perfect passer rating of 158.3 (worse than any Patriot in the Super Bowl) and missed two tackles (worse than any defensive back in the Super Bowl).