Reimer: Asinine to suggest Malcolm Butler's terrible season excuses bizarre Super Bowl benching

Alex Reimer
November 08, 2018 - 9:41 am

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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Bill Belichick’s decision to let Malcolm Butler leave for the financially greener pastures of free agency looks like one of his best personnel decisions ever. As you have almost certainly heard, the ex-Patriots corner is in the midst of an atrocious season. Butler has allowed seven touchdowns with the Titans, more than any other cornerback in the NFL. He is another high-priced veteran whom Belichick jettisoned at the right time. 

But under no circumstances does Butler’s brutal campaign in Tennessee excuse Belichick’s bizarre edict to bench him for the entire Super Bowl. Talk about pretzel logic. 

On Boston Sports Journal, Greg Bedard is insistent on proving Belichick’s prescience. In Bedard’s daily briefing Thursday, the longtime NFL scribe uses Butler’s poor performance against the Eagles this season to defend Belichick for sidelining him against the Eagles last season. 

“For those that cling to the notion that Bill Belichick didn't have a legitimate reason to keep Butler out of the Super Bowl, he had his chance at the Eagles this year and allowed a perfect passer rating of 158.3 (7 receptions on 7 targets, 119 yards and a touchdown according to ProFootballFocus.com),” Bedard writes. “He also missed two tackles (fifth-worse tackling grade on the Titans).”

In order to amplify his argument, Bedard says the low-grade Patriots defensive backs who played in Butler’s place –– Eric Rowe, Jordan Richards, Johnson Bademosi –– had passer ratings between 118.8 and 131.3. So yes, they were terrible, but not as terrible as Butler could have been.

Still, that doesn’t excuse Belichick’s obstinance about sitting Butler while his defense was getting shredded. The Eagles scored 41 points and Nick Foles racked up 373 yards to go along with three touchdowns against the Patriots’ porous pass defense. Perhaps Butler wouldn’t have helped matters, but it was worth a try. After all, he had played 97.8 percent of the snaps during the regular season.

And therein lies the central problem with rewriting the history of the Butler benching: if Belichick thought the Super Bowl hero was losing it, he had a weird way of showing it. In the AFC championship against Jacksonville, Butler was on the field for every defensive snap. Same for the Divisional Round. 

In the Boston Globe Thursday, Chris Gasper extols Belichick for “recognizing a downturn in Butler’s game before anyone else.” That was true in March, but not in January, because again, Butler played every single defensive snap on the Patriots’ run to the Super Bowl.

Far before last offseason, we knew Belichick didn’t value Butler as a long-term No. 1 corner. That was apparent in March 2017, when the Patriots inked Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract, while Butler played on his first-round tender. 

But Belichick did value Butler enough last season to put him on the field all of the time. It is inconceivable his opinion of a player could change that much over just a two-week period. And even if it did, Bademosi and Richards getting burned all over the Twin Cities during Super Bowl LII should’ve prompted Belichick to play Butler, who by the way, was dressed for the game.

Belichick was right about Butler for this season. But he was wrong about the Super Bowl, and always will be. 

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