Hannable: It's time for Malcolm Butler benching story to go away

Ryan Hannable
February 20, 2018 - 10:50 pm

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

The No. 1 topic with the Patriots right now isn’t about the reported tension between the Krafts, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. 

It isn’t whether or not Rob Gronkowski will retire. 

It isn’t even how much longer Belichick and Brady have left in their careers.

Instead, it’s something that happened almost two-and-a-half weeks ago — why didn’t Malcolm Butler play in Super Bowl LII?

The reason why it’s still a huge story is because not much more is known now than what was known the night of the game. 

According to Belichick, it was strictly a football decision.

What really got people going was Eric Rowe, who started over Butler, saying immediately afterwards he found out he was starting just before kickoff, and then NBC cameras catching Butler crying during the national anthem. 

This fueled speculation that something happened behind the scenes and perhaps it was disciplinary. But, the reality of the situation is starting the game doesn’t mean anything. The starting lineup really depends on what kind of offense the opposition has on the field for the first drive. Rowe saying he found out he was starting just before kickoff shouldn’t really be a major factor in the discussion.

The bigger issue was Butler not playing at all, especially in the second half when the defense got torched in the first half and really needed just one defensive stop. Not only was Rowe playing over Butler, but so was Jordan Richards and Johnson Bademosi when the Patriots had six defensive backs on the field.

This is where there simply hasn’t been an explanation and therefore is still a story because it really is the most questionable decision of Belichick’s career.

Over the weekend, Devin McCourty reiterated something a few players told NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry and Mike Giardi after the game that it was known going into the contest that Butler wouldn’t start. But on Tuesday, appearing on Dale & Holley with Keefe, Alan Branch said he had no idea Butler wouldn’t play.

Even with two players speaking on the matter, nothing more is known.

With so much time passing since the game and no new information known, the more things are trending to it really was purely a football decision. Butler passionately denied it involving discipline with a statement released on Instagram the Tuesday following the game saying he didn’t get into trouble off the field the week of the game. Additionally, nothing has come out since to prove that being wrong.

At this point the only way the story goes away is a definitive answer as to what happened with Butler not playing a single defensive snap, and that would likely need to come from Belichick himself. 

So, don’t expect it to happen.

Belichick and the Patriots haven’t spoken at the NFL combine in years, so don’t expect to hear from him next week in Indianapolis. The next opportunity would be at the AFC coaches breakfast at the end of March, but don’t forget the coach skipped it last year to go on a recruiting trip. Even if he does speak, when does Belichick ever talk about something that happened over two months ago?

After that, Belichick’s next availability would be at April’s draft and it’s highly unlikely a Super Bowl-related question would get asked, let alone entertained.

While it is a fascinating discussion given how unusual it was, and potentially did cost the Patriots a Super Bowl, it may be time to put the Butler talk to rest and just accept no real explanation likely will ever be given.

Maybe it truly was just a football decision and Belichick went with his gut.

After all, in BB we trust. Right?

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