Stephon Gilmore

Malcolm Butler says Patriots 'gave up' on him

Malcolm Butler says Patriots 'gave up' on him

MINNEAPOLIS -- Malcolm Butler stood with his back to reporters, trying to clasp his thick gold chain. He went at it once. No luck. Twice. Not happening. After a third try, he flung it into his backpack while muttering something under his breath. 

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Butler then turned sharply, not to face about a dozen media members waiting at his locker, but to spin out of sight and out into the night. He saluted those waiting on him and hustled for the exit. 

Before he got to the buses, Butler was stopped and asked if he was given a reason why his team -- a team that gave up 41 points in the Super Bowl -- had opted to bench him.

“No,” he told NBC Sports Boston, with an edge in his voice. He then shook his head and off he went.

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He later realized he'd left his cellphone in the locker room, returned, and was stopped by a member of the Patriots media-relations staff. Asked if he'd take a few questions from reporters, he opted not to, threw his hands in the air and left the locker room again. 

It was a stunning end to a frustrating year. After leading the team in defensive snaps this season, including playoffs, he did not see one in his team's 41-33 loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. 

All the while, his replacements, Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi, struggled in coverage at times and missed some critical third-down tackles. Butler, a sure tackler and one of the most competitive players on the field whether he was playing well or not, could have helped. 

Bill Belichick deemed otherwise, saying repeatedly after the game that he did what was best for the team, what gave them the best chance to win.

Butler’s teammates, already in shock about the loss, had precious few answers on Butler’s status. Duron Harmon told us to "ask coach," and safety Jordan Richards stammered for a second, shrugged and eventually said he didn’t want to speak on that.

"You gotta ask the coaches," Stephon Gilmore said. "We rotate a lot in practice. We just go with the coaching staff . . . We know he's a great player, but we gotta listen to the coaches. Whatever they say we gotta do, we gotta do." 

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There were mixed messages from Patriots defensive backs after the game when it came to how much warning had been given to the team as it related to the plan with Butler. Devin McCourty told NBC Sports Boston after the game that players understood what the plan was as it related to Butler's playing time. When asked why that was the plan, McCourty said it wasn't up to the players.

Eric Rowe, meanwhile, said, "that wasn't the plan."

"It wasn't official," Rowe said, "until kickoff... I feel for [Butler]."  

Indications are that Rowe practiced opposite Gilmore this past week, but, because the Patriots tend to rotate players in practice, Rowe may not have been sure he was starting until just before the game.

Multiple players, such as Rowe, seemed taken aback by the decision not to play the Super Bowl XLIX hero. One player told NBC Sports Boston that Butler's benching wasn’t necessarily beneficial for the team Sunday night. 

Belichick said after the game that the decision not to play Butler was not disciplinary in nature. 

"We put the best -- the players out there and the game plan out there that we thought would be the best tonight," Belichick said, "like we always do."

Belichick explained that the decision was strictly football related, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia echoed those sentiments. 

"We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had," he said. "Different situations came up, and were just trying to move some things around."

Whatever the reasoning, Butler was emotional following the game. Appearing angry at times, appearing saddened at others. He was boiling when ESPN's Mike Reiss caught up with him.

"They gave up on me. F---. It is what it is," Butler said. "I don't know what it was. I guess I wasn't playing good or they didn't feel comfortable. I don't know. But I could have changed that game."

With Butler out, Rowe was targeted a team-high nine times and allowed six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Bademosi was targeted once and allowed one catch for 17 yards.

On the night, Nick Foles completed 28 of 43 pass attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

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Madden simulation has Patriots coming out on top

Madden simulation has Patriots coming out on top

Remember Stephon Gilmore’s standout defensive play - batting a Jaguars pass away on 4th-and-13 - to close out the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game? Get ready for deja vu in the Super Bowl.

At least that’s the way EA Sports’ Madden video game sees it in their annual Super Bowl simulation.

The simulation predicts a 24-20 victory for the Patriots over the Eagles. So much for the Madden Curse for cover boy Tom Brady, who wins his sixth Super Bowl title for himself and New England, if the prediction holds.

But the hero is Gilmore. Here’s how the EA Sports’ release describes the finish, after Brady tosses a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the fourth quarter to make it 24-20, just like against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game:

“…After forcing an Eagles punt, the Pats were on their way to a grind-out-the-clock win when the fates intervened, and Eagles safety Malcolm Jennings forced a strip fumble of New England running back Dion Lewis.

"Capitalizing on the momentum the Eagles marched upfield, using masterful clock management to put themselves in position to dethrone the Patriots in dramatic fashion. As time expired [Nick] Foles lofted a desperate pass to [Alshon] Jeffery, hoping the veteran could use his size and physicality to come down with the ball and send the city of Philadelphia into euphoria. However, Patriots defensive back Stefon Gilmore had other plans, and rose as the hero of the moment, knocking the ball away and sealing the Patriots sixth championship."

Madden simulations have nailed 10 of the past 14 Super Bowl winners, including last year when it called a Pats victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
 

Belichick: Playoff neophytes like Cooks, Gilmore provide renewed energy

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Belichick: Playoff neophytes like Cooks, Gilmore provide renewed energy

MINNEAPOLIS -- This may be old hat for a handful of Patriots. 

Guys like Tom Brady (eight Super Bowl appearances), Stephen Gostkowski (five), Devin McCourty (four), Nate Solder (four) and Rob Gronkowski (four) have been through the hoopla of playing for a championship before. 

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And while those players have said they aren't taking this experience for granted, Bill Belichick acknowledged that the team gets a shot of energy from the players on the roster who are new to the whole thing. 

Belichick told Patriots.com that Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, two of the most important players in New England's AFC title game victory over the Jaguars, are providing that shot for the Patriots this year. 

"It's great to see players like that come onto the team, embrace the team, come from one system to a new team and try to acclimate themselves to what we're doing," said Belichick. "To see them have the success, the results from that, it kind of gives your team an energy that you don't really anticipate.

"You think a lot of times the leadership is coming from the McCourtys and the Solders and the Bradys and those kind of guys. But a lot of times that energy comes from Cooks, Gilmore, or going back to '04 Corey Dillon or '07 Randy Moss -- guys coming from other teams that now have a chance to go to the Super Bowl, or went to the Super Bowl. And that energy level and enthusiasm that they brought made a lot of other guys, who saw the careers those players had like Corey and Randy, how excited they were because it was a chance to play for a championship. It's interesting how that works, it really is."

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Belichick will be the first to admit that the Patriots need to do more than simply get excited for Super Bowl 52 to have a shot to beat the Eagles. But if they play the way they did in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game, that wouldn't be a bad place to start. 

"We really didn't play the game we wanted to play it through the majority of the game, but our fourth quarter was probably our best quarter of football of the year," Belichick said. "Coaching staff made some great adjustments, our players made some great plays, and we finished the game in a strong fashion."

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