MINNEAPOLIS — How are you feeling about your coach today, Patriots fans?
Still got “Do Your Job” and “No Days Off” tattooed somewhere on your body? Still blissfully living the life of “In Bill We Trust”? Still applauding the coach for giving the media the finger every time we ask Bill Belichick a football question? Still believe his decisions are none of anybody’s business?
I sense a crack in the blind loyalty the Hoodie traditionally receives from Patriots Nation. The Patriots lost a very winnable Super Bowl Sunday night in some part because Bill benched cornerback Malcolm Butler for some undisclosed infraction or violation of the Patriots code.
We don’t know the reason, of course. No one will say anything. Bill and his stooges (yes, that means you, Matt Patricia) are still parsing out the bogus company line that Butler’s benching was a football decision.
Rubbish. Butler played in more than 98 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in 18 games this season. He was healthy enough Sunday to play one snap on special teams. But he was not allowed to play defense on a night when the backup quarterback of the Eagles shredded Patricia’s House of Cards for 41 points.
Butler could be seen crying during the national anthem. His teammates said they were not prepared for the benching in the days before the game (“That wasn’t the plan,” acknowledged Butler’s replacement, Eric Rowe). After the loss, Butler said, “They gave up on me. (Expletive). It is what it is, 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.’’
Indeed. Rowe, Jordan Richards, and Johnson Bademosi took turns filling in for Butler and they all failed as the Eagles gashed and gutted New England time and again. Butler has his flaws, but even at his worst, he can tackle. And we know he’s capable of coming up big in the big moment. Anybody still remember when we first learned his name after he won the Super Bowl three years ago in Glendale, Ariz.?
After Sunday’s game, Belichick said it was a football decision, not rooted in discipline.
Here’s what Patricia delivered: “We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had. Different situations came up, and we were just trying to move things around . . . He was active for the game and anybody who 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.’’
Bull. Crap. Like Belichick, Patricia embarrasses himself and the team with this non-answer of an obvious and important question.
Some decorated members of the Patriots family were weighing in Monday morning.
“We need to get to the bottom of the Malcom Butler situation,” tweeted three-time Super Bowl champ Ty Law, a former cornerback. “I’m baffled about this one. We needed this man on the field.’’
Brandon Browner, Butler’s Super Bowl teammate in the Seattle win, took to Instagram and wrote, “Bill wasn’t right at all tonight. You play every game of the season but the Super Bowl? . . . That was a power trip . . . They deserve that (losing) for not playing Malcolm.’’
Belichick did not bend nor break in his Monday morning conference call with the media.
“I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness, and I’m sure he felt like he could have helped,’’ said the coach. “I’m sure other players felt the same way. But in the end, we had to make the decisions that were best for the football team. . . . In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.’’
Swell, Bill. But nobody’s buying. You made a Grady Little-esque blunder and you will not explain it. Your fans are not stupid.
This is probably where Bill takes the advice of one of my readers and goes all Colonel Nathan Jessup on us, saying, “You weep for Malcolm Butler and you curse this loss. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know; that Butler’s benching, while tragic, probably saved games. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves games . . . I neither have the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a media which sleeps in the footie pajamas of the team for which I win games, and then questions the manner in which I provide those wins. I would rather you said ‘thank you’ and went on your way.’’
Good luck with this one, Bill. The questions are not going away. Nobody thinks this was a football decision. And it’s starting to feel like that much-discussed dysfunction at the top of the Patriot pyramid we heard so much about just might be real.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com