MINNEAPOLIS — In a Super Bowl in which the Eagles torched the Patriots for 41 points and 374 yards, Malcolm Butler — the author of arguably the most famous defensive play in Patriots history, a game-clinching goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX — never played a defensive snap.
Approached after the game, Butler — who was in tears during the pre-game anthem — had little insight to offer as to why, after playing in all 18 Patriots games (including 17 starts) preceding the Super Bowl, he remained in uniform, available to play on special teams, but on the sidelines when the Patriots were on defense.
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Butler said as he left the Patriots locker room, perhaps for the last time as approaches free agency this offseason.
On the way to the team bus, however, Butler revealed the depths of his frustration to Mike Reiss and Adam Schefter of ESPN.
“They gave up on me. [Expletive]. It is what it is,” Butler told them. “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.”
After the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that the decision not to put Butler on the field was simply based on the team’s desire to “put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win.” He added that Butler’s absence from the field wasn’t the result of a disciplinary measure, and was simply a football decision.
Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia likewise said that Butler was healthy but that the decision not to put him on the field was matchup-based.
“We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had,” said Patricia. “Different situations came up, and we were just trying to move some things around. . . . He was active for the game and anybody that is active for the game is ready to go. We just had a situation where we had some matchups and packages that we went with.”
Other members of the Patriots had little light to shed on Butler’s surprising absence from the game, though defensive back Eric Rowe — who started in Butler’s place — allowed that he was surprised by the turn of events.
“That wasn’t the plan,” Rowe said of Butler. “He is an amazing player.”
With Butler out, Philadelphia repeatedly attacked Rowe, throwing at him three times on third-down plays in the first drive of the game (converting two en route to a field goal) and rarely letting up. After a Super Bowl night in which the Eagles converted 12 of 18 third- and fourth-down plays, the Patriots will now have a full offseason to wonder whether Butler’s absence from the field transformed what could have been their sixth Super Bowl triumph into their third championship defeat this century.