Nobody was sweeping up confetti at this time last year, or complaining about the public using public transportation to get to another dangblasted parade.
We were taking the measure of how much damage the decision to bench Malcolm Butler would have on Bill Belichick’s coaching legacy.
Scratched? Dented? Crumpled? Totaled?
It was going to leave some kind of mark. It had to. That’s what we thought.
We thought wrong. There’s been nary a mention that the Patriots, had it not been for the Butler benching, could very well be the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.
There was barely a Butler mention in the days leading up to the Super Bowl.
That’s not because people didn’t want to be the turd in the punch bowl -- God knows there’s no reluctance to be that around here -- it’s because the Patriots’ Super Bowl return signified that, no matter what the Butler decision may have cost the Patriots last season, the agitation was eventually pocketed.
Why? Because, in the end, it wasn’t worth it to keep pulling out the grievance, staring at it, fixating on it, rolling it over in your hand, examining it and getting pissed off about it all over again.
Would it have been the same had Belichick gone through every facet of the decision to not use Butler? Opened the floor to questions? Solicited each player’s feelings?
Somehow, I doubt it.
It’s ironic that the man who preceded Belichick, Pete Carroll, went about things very differently in Seattle after SB49. Everybody got to add their two cents on what the decision to throw instead of run cost them personally. Everybody got to hear explanation after explanation for why it happened.
Everybody got to pull out any other grudge they’d been holding prior to (again, ironically) Malcolm Butler’s interception and slap that on the table, too.
The sniping and bitterness never went away because it was allowed to get traction.
With the Patriots, it was Belichick the father taking the question, “Why?” from the family and saying, “Because I said so.”
And that was that.
This highlights again a unique aspect of the Patriots dynasty that will be hard for another team to replicate. The ability to get buy-in from a team even when there is unresolved bitterness.
The ability to not just take a loss but take a preventable loss in the biggest game when players and coaches had the opportunity to reach the goal they’d worked for all season or their entire football lives.
Take it. Process it. Pocket it. Then start again.
Before Sunday, the last time a team lost the Super Bowl then returned the next season and won it was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. A team hadn’t even returned to the Super Bowl the season following a Super Bowl loss since the 1993 Buffalo Bills.
But this Patriots team, even after the agitations, even after losing three incredibly important skill position players from their offense (Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis), even after losing five times on the road and putting up non-competitive losses three times, this team which had every right to kick rocks about not winning last year and letting it carry over into this year . . . this team didn’t just get back to the Super Bowl, it won it.
In the end, in a weird way, that actually burnishes Belichick’s legacy. It shows what an outlier he is as a leader, coach, team-builder and reader of team psychology.
Regardless of how poorly Butler practiced that week or played all season, when the Patriots had no answers in SB52, leaving him rotting on the bench after he’d played over 95 percent of the team’s snaps all season seemed an abomination. It was the polar opposite of “doing what’s best for the team.”
It didn’t make sense. Not just to the fans and media, to the players too. How could it not linger into this season?
The Malcolm Butler Decision is never going to disappear. It’s part of the New England Patriots’ story.
But what happened in the season after a Super Bowl win after a Super Bowl loss -- something that hadn’t occurred in almost 50 years -- that’s the rest of the story.
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