Butler had been sick in the run-up to kickoff, appearing with an “illness” on New England’s injury report. He still appeared on special teams in the first half, but he was absent on defense after playing 98 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the regular season.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said early Monday evening that it was a “perfect storm of issues” that caused Butler to be benched, including a rules violation:
My understanding is the benching of #Patriots CB Malcolm Butler happened because of a perfect storm of issues: Sickness, a rough week of practice, and a minor rule violation believed to be related to curfew. A complicated matter. pic.twitter.com/TmUJgkHpsZ— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 5, 2018
On Tuesday, Butler released a statement via his Twitter account thanking Robert Kraft and the Patriots and calling the rumors about missing curfew and other factors “ridiculous.” He also hinted that his time in New England may be coming to a close.
“Although I wish I could have contributed more to help my team win, I have to get ready for the next opportunity,” Butler said.
He was replaced by Eric Rowe.
Rowe replaced Butler on the Eagles’ opening drive and made a pass break-up in the end zone on a third down to force a field goal. On the Eagles’ next drive, Alshon Jeffery scorched him for a 34-yard touchdown, the first of the game. The Patriots’ defense struggled to stop Philadelphia all night.
Rowe started one game at left corner, the same one Butler didn’t start in Week 2 against the Saints. He’s made a couple of other starts as an extra defensive back. He’s a former Eagle, having been picked by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2015 draft. The Eagles later traded him to the Patriots for a conditional pick.
Butler was clearly upset after the game.
“They gave up on me. Fuck. It is what it is,” Butler told ESPN afterward. He added, “I could’ve changed that game” and declined to say what was next for him. Butler is set to become an unrestricted free agent this year and might not return to Foxborough.
Butler had also been demoted in practice leading up to the game, according to Kevin Duffy of MassLive.com. It was striking that the Patriots went to depth cornerback Johnson Bademosi on some downs before using Butler.
Butler gave this quote after the game:
Malcolm Butler: 'I ain't got nothing to say'— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) February 5, 2018
Later, he gave a more toned down response.
Malcolm Butler: "It was a coach's decision. I was just doing my job and supporting my teammates. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization. They gave me an opportunity. That's about it." https://t.co/jTtjF5ZjJv— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) February 5, 2018
Bill Belichick said that it wasn’t for disciplinary reasons.
After the game’s conclusion, Bill Belichick told the media that the reason for Butler’s benching wasn’t disciplinary.
“I made the decisions that give us the best chance to win,” head coach Bill Belichick said, according to Michelle Tafoya on NBC’s broadcast.
Butler was “still feeling the effects of a nasty illness” on Thursday, the Boston Globe reported. NBC’s Al Michaels reported during the game that it was a “coach’s decision” not to play Butler. That could’ve been informed by his sickness, but it seemed unlikely that the illness was the sole reason Butler didn’t play.
Butler had started all but one game at left cornerback this season, including every contest since Week 2.
However on Monday, Belichick teased us with this:
Belichick said you could have a "much longer discussion" about why Butler didn't play.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) February 5, 2018
Very cryptic. Didn't explain context.
His former teammates showed him support on Instagram.
After the game, former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner wrote a post bashing Bill Belichick for sitting Butler.
The post was liked by Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Alfonzo Dennard, all former Patriots:
Browner’s Instagram post was liked by Hightower, Jamie Collins and Alfonzo Dennard pic.twitter.com/uDGIzvcerH— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) February 5, 2018
Devin McCourty spoke out for him two weeks after the Super Bowl.
Speaking at a Rutgers-based fundraiser for Tackle Sickle Cell, McCourty told NJ Advance Media that rumors of disciplinary reasons for his benching were false.
“As far as I know, all of that is the furthest thing from the truth,” McCourty said. “We all knew he wasn’t starting all week. That wasn’t a secret to the guys on the team.
“I get why people are fishing. The guy played 98 percent of the plays. I just hate that for him character-wise going into free agency. It’s just not true. As far as I know — and I was there all week — not one time did anything come up.”
Butler was the hero for the Patriots in Super Bowl 49 against the Seahawks, three years ago. In that game, he intercepted a slant from Russell Wilson in the final minute, denying the Seahawks a game-winning touchdown and flipping a likely loss into a win. In the time since then, Butler’s gone from a relative unknown to a critical starter.
Now, his future with the Patriots is more uncertain than ever.