MINNEAPOLIS – I’m not taking the cheese tonight. I’ve taken the cheese before and then had to walk it back. It’s no fun.
So, I’m going to wait before I arm flap with full indignation about the benching of Malcolm Butler. Bill Belichick’s been doing this too long for it to just boil down to him having had enough of Butler’s act. There has to be something more that we still haven’t learned in these hours after the Patriots' 41-33 loss to Philly.
You know it, I know it, the country knows it -- and most importantly, the Patriots themselves know it -- that keeping Malcolm Butler on the bench cost them Super Bowl 52.
Bill Belichick said it was football-related, not disciplinary.
Matt Patricia vomited this word soup up on the podium when asked why Butler didn’t play: “We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense and those guys that were out there were out there for all the situations that we needed them for. So, it kind of turned out that way and the game with the way it went and some of the situations that came up, that was just kind of the way it went.”
Standard double-speak. Frustrating? Disingenuous? Absolutely.
Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards were out there trying to cover people in key situations while a guy who quite literally saved a Super Bowl for them three years ago was rotting on the sidelines? Whoops. C’est la vie. That’s the way it goes. Couldn’t find a spot for him.
You know it, I know it, the country knows it, there had to be a bigger transgression from Butler somewhere along the line for him to get benched.
If being short and playing at less than a Pro Bowl-level for them this year were truly sins, the mind reels at what kind of punishment the mechanical and easily duped Richards deserves.
This is a coaching staff that’s put Troy Brown, Julian Edelman and Matt Slater in to play defense when things got dicey. This is the same coaching staff that had enough of Kyle Arrington in Super Bowl 49 and yanked him in favor of the undrafted, unknown Butler.
Whatever Butler did, it better rise to the level of insubordination that makes a forfeited championship worth it.
Because everyone deserved better. The players and coaches who give their lives up to get to this spot, they deserved to be able to give the Eagles their best shot. That meant Butler on the field at some point trying to stop Nick Foles from riddling them for 373 yards and three touchdown passes while the Philly offense went 10-for-16 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down and amassed 538 total yards.
Bill Belichick’s earned the benefit of the doubt, so I’m going to hold it until we find out the real reason the Butler didn’t get to do anything.
This wasn’t Wes Welker benched at the beginning of the AFC Divisional Playoff against the Jets for a pile of foot jokes. By football standards, this is capital punishment.
Eric Rowe, who started in place of Butler said he didn’t know prior to the game he was starting.
“No, that wasn’t the plan,” Rowe said when I asked him at the postgame press conference. “It wasn’t official until kickoff.”
It was unmistakable that Butler’s teammates were at a loss and upset Butler didn’t play. While there weren’t any open lamentations about the coaching decision to sit Butler, it was easy to read the facial expressions and body language when the question was posed. Of course, it hurt the team.
And that’s where the weirdness of it all comes in.
How many times have we heard Belichick say over the years that he does what’s best for the football team? A few thousand?
And on the biggest stage, in the biggest game, Butler watched while the defense got carved up? You have to do some amazing mental contortions to divine how that was what was best for the football team.
Unless letting Butler play in spite of whatever offense he committed was a bridge too far for Belichick. Whatever it was, it better have been worth sacrificing a championship for.
It’s been a weird, weird year.
The Jimmy Garoppolo trade for a bag of kicking tees at the trade deadline. The Brady-Belichick tension that’s been ongoing. The omnipresent vibe that this ride’s almost over and people are getting strange as this dynasty wheezes into the station.
Earlier this week, “The Two Bills” 30 for 30 documentary detailed the weirdness and strange dysfunction of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick’s split. Clashing egos, clandestine deal-making and power struggles had far-reaching impacts on NFL history.
Does it seem that foreign from what we’re seeing right now? Even as the game rolled along, the speculation that Josh McDaniels was going to leave the Colts at the altar and stay in New England was flying.
Does that mean he’s staying? And if so, does that mean he’s elevating to replace Belichick? If so, why so?
We don’t know why Malcolm Butler sat. We don’t know what Bill Belichick’s going to do. We don’t know if Josh McDaniels is staying or going.
What we do know is the Patriots lost a Super Bowl to the Eagles and a one-time Super Bowl hero turned into a Super Bowl zero. Strange days, indeed.
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