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.
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.
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."
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.