FOXBORO -- Even after Malcolm Butler made his Super Bowl-saving pick, there were very few who could foresee his career playing out the way it has over the course of the last season-and-a-half.
Patriots coaches were confident they had a player on their hands. Butler himself carried with him a belief that he belonged. But since intercepting Russell Wilson in the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX, the undrafted rookie reserve has exceeded the expectations of many and turned himself into a Pro Bowler. He has established himself as one of the best corners in the league.
Butler is fifth in the NFL in catch percentage, allowing just 48.3 percent of targets sent his way to be caught, according to Pro Football Focus. He's also tied for the league lead with 10 passes defensed. He hasn't been perfect, and who can be when going up talented receivers like Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Arizona's John Brown, Miami's Jarvis Landry and Houston's Will Fuller? But he has been consistently very good.
"He's a really good player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in a conference call on Wednesday. "Good ballplayer. He seems really instinctive and aggressive and confident. He's done a nice job."
Brief as the praise may be from Carroll -- can you blame him for trying to excise all Butler thoughts from his mind? -- it's something that the Seahawks coach probably would not have been able to say before the last meeting between Seattle and New England. There just wasn't enough tape on the kid.
Much has changed both on the field and off for the Division 2 West Alabama product as he's become the face of the Patriots defense in some ways, particularly after two young Pro Bowlers from last season, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, have been traded away. His jersey has been featured prominently in the team's pro shop, and he has been in the spotlight for several charitable events at different points in the year.
The player who was rarely bothered by reporters at his locker as a rookie is now sought out to speak to young students about the importance of pursuing dreams and working to achieve them regardless any obstacles that may be in the way.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick commented recently about the many ways in which he has seen Butler grow and mature since his arrival to the Patriots before the 2014 season.
"Certainly, the move from West Alabama or Mississippi where he grew up to this area, that’s a pretty big jump right there just in terms of making adjustments, living style, transition and all of that," Belichick said. "I think that’s part of it, just going from a college situation and that level of competition to a professional level -- the daily demands of the National Football League. Any player has to make that transition.
"Malcolm has definitely made that, and then having a life outside of football off the field, managing time, managing your personal living situations and so forth, that’s something all players go through. I think he’s followed that on kind of a natural progression, about what you would expect. It’s something that we all continually work with and I think Malcolm has certainly made that adjustment, and continues to make it, really."
While Butler certainly has no lack of confidence on the field, going toe-to-toe with anyone who may challenge him after the whistle, he maintains a certain level of quiet in the locker room that belies his standing as the team's No. 1 corner.
"I think Malcolm is pretty humble overall," Belichick added. "I think that’s one of the things that [is endearing] to his teammates and all the people around him.
"He’s confident, he works hard, he loves to compete, but at the same time he is humble about his success and the notoriety that he’s received, not for one play, but also as he’s established himself as a solid NFL corner. He still, I think, does a good job of staying humble and keeping things in perspective the right way."
All of which explains how Butler views the play that changed his life. It makes him smile to think about it, sure. But it's not something he chooses to dwell on though much of the region will do just that this week as the Patriots get ready to take on the Seahawks this weekend.
"It always does [bring about a smile] whenever I think back on it, but that's not going to help us win this game," Butler said Wednesday. "It's bigger than me. It's about the team. That play will not help us Sunday night, so we've got to be ready to play."