OPINION | Ken Pittman: In Bill We Trust(ed), So What Happened?
The 2017 NFL season is all over. The Philadelphia Eagles are world champions having defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were denied their sixth ring with a disappointing ending to a most curious game.
The Eagles, in particular, head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles each had great games. No taking away from their performances, but many in Patriot Nation feel this loss was more self-inflicted.
Shortly before the game...like minutes before the game began, coach Belichick informed Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia that Eric Rowe, not Malcolm Butler, would be the starting cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore on defense.
Butler had started every game up until that point, playing in 98-percent of the defensive plays for New England. In those games, the Patriots went 13-3 in the regular season and advanced through the AFC to reach the Superbowl. He was fourth on the team in tackles.
Admittedly, Butler did not enjoy his finest year as a pro. I watched every snap this year and thought he was beaten a few too many times and once or twice, went for the strip over the tackle which ended up being a mistake. Still, he was pretty good, a dependable tackler, a good hitter, and an all-around physical player.
Trouble in Paradise
Throughout the early part of the pre-season, Butler was thought to be indignant that the Patriots signed Buffalo's stud cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a loud and clear lucrative contract.
Many closer to the situation thought Butler felt deserving of a similar offering, given his heroics in Super Bowl 49 when he intercepted a pass by Seahawk's quarterback Russell Wilson, stunning the world by stopping what seemed to be a sure win for Seattle by both reading the play and executing his own play in a moment few will forget.
I do think Butler and the entire secondary, had a rough game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game. The Jags crossing patterns pestered the defense all game with far too many first downs and Butler had his share of struggles. New England was lucky to have the GOAT help them to escape such a bad day at the office for the defensive backfield. I get it. Belichick had worries.
Not for a moment though, do I believe coach Belichick who said that Butler's demotion, decided on the sideline, moments before the game, was an "assessment." It could not have been.
This was, for whatever reason, a punishment. Let's suppose for a moment that Bill felt Eric Rowe was simply outplaying Butler and had a gut feeling to start him. Okay, so how does that equate into Butler being dropped to the very bottom of the defensive backfield depth chart for New England?
One barometer to try to guess if Butler did something as was rumored before the Super Bowl is a response by Tom Brady. Whispers and innuendo that Malcolm Butler missed practices, was late for others or was intoxicated when he arrived a day late after missing the team flight because of an illness, were floated around in the media.
Butler responded and seemed to get support from Brady who I strongly doubt would lift a finger to publicly support a player who, by not playing due to a rules violation, may have cost a Super Bowl win. Brady's support had a purpose as Belichick faces mounting pressure to explain.
There are mystery and intrigue to this decision and for the first time since he came to New England, I feel even the legendary coach Bill Belichick owes we the fans an explanation. The fans are the reason he owns the large bank account, boats, homes, and cars he enjoys. Without us, there is no Super Bowl, no stadiums to fill, no rock star career.
We watched several players take the field and unsuccessfully perform and prove themselves close to being worthy of performing in the world's biggest annual sporting event called the Super Bowl.
For example, Johnson Bademosi (who?) had the chance to make a stop in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were finally struggling on third and 12. He was run over and helplessly watched the Eagles continue on their game-winning march.
Six missed tackles just in the secondary in that game. Butler is arguably the best tackling defensive back we have, certainly the best tackling cornerback.
It may be that Butler did something that in Bill's mind earned a game benching and that the coach is not sharing it with the world as Butler hits the open market in free-agency. He may be somehow protecting Butler from getting a smaller contract by exposing some inexcusable behavior that cost him Super Bowl playing time. Bill is allegedly kind of cool like that, not wishing to harm a player's future elsewhere.
Tom Brady's Superbowl record 505 passing yards with three TDs and the terrific job by the offensive line will go largely unnoticed because of the loss and awful showing of the defense.
Bill, any intelligent Patriot's fan is forever indebted to you for delivering a lifetime of success in the 19 seasons you've brought here. But still, you stared down a Superbowl loss by keeping Butler sidelined on defense while our defensive backs were so consistently outclassed by Philly's offense. Just one time, answer the question; Why? We need this one.