Adam Butler was true to his word Sunday.
Or more accurately, true to his handle. His social media handle, that is.
“I’ll never quit,” is what the Patriots defensive tackle goes by, and, as he showed against the Cardinals, it’s also his playing style.
Butler never quit coming after Kyler Murray, keeping the Arizona quarterback with the floating feet and amazing arm on his toes and off his game all afternoon in a 20-17 Patriots victory.
Murray came to Foxborough on a hot streak, having thrown for more than 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns (at least one in every game this season). He also had rushed for 619 yards and 10 TDs. He left with very pedestrian numbers: 170 passing yards, 31 rushing yards, and zero scores.
New England’s defense, spearheaded by Butler, bewildered and battered Murray.
A week after missing the first game of his four-year career because of multiple injuries, Butler played one of his finest. It almost seemed as if the former offensive lineman forgot he switched sides of the ball with the amount of time he spent in Arizona’s backfield.
“Just going into this game, I felt like it was important to get vertical in the pocket and make [Murray] feel uncomfortable,” said Butler, who sacked Murray once and landed three hits on him. “So, my goal the entire game was to affect him. I’m just glad everything worked out.”
It more than worked out as Butler filled the stat sheet with five tackles (two for a loss), three quarterback hits, a tipped pass, and untold pressures.
“It’s no secret I’ve been dealing with a shoulder injury and I’ve just been fighting like hell to get back,’' said Butler, who also has dealt with an elbow ailment. “And it’s really tough to be yourself in a position like that for anybody. So, I was really pleased with my performance today and it’s all about the team.”
Butler handling things up front had a back-end effect, helping the secondary, which didn’t have to cover as long because Murray didn’t have time to read through his progressions.
“We got good inside pressure at times and we were able to create some, I’d say, advantageous rush situations,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “I thought we rushed competitively.
“When we were trying to play everything, that slows down the pass rush, but Adam did a good job for us with penetration where he was able to get some pressure on the quarterback, but also he created some space so we could have other guys work off of him and create some pressure as well. So, he did a good job, had a productive game, and he really helped us.”
Butler also was stout in the run game and the red zone, and that showed up most notably during the biggest sequence of the first half when the Patriots denied the Cardinals on the doorstep right before the break.
Butler helped drag down KeeSean Johnson on what was originally ruled an 8-yard touchdown catch. Upon review, Johnson was deemed down at the 1-yard line, setting up a fourth and goal. Butler indirectly helped keep Kenyan Drake out of the end zone on the next play as time expired.
“We had good penetration inside,” said Belichick. “Adam had some penetration that might have forced the ball over there, and [Lawrence Guy] had a good charge there. I think Drake went where he had to go; I think that’s where the space was.
“It was really a good, strong tackle by Ja’Whaun [Bentley] that kept him out.
“Honestly, the play before where John [Simon] and Adam Butler were able to keep Johnson from getting into the end zone . . . again, it’s just a couple of inches there, but you fight for every yard, every foot, every inch. In this case, it came out in our favor.”
When it comes down to those precious inches, said Butler, it’s dig in and stay strong.
“The mind-set is just to not get moved,” Butler said. “Just don’t get moved, don’t lose ground and fight to the end of the whistle. The goal is to tackle the guy with the ball, but ultimately, in the trenches, it’s a man-whooping-man game.
“Like I said, the goal is just to not get moved off the line of scrimmage.’'