John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots arrived at Gillette Stadium from Minnesota around 4:30 p.m. Monday to grab their belongings, and there wasn’t much any player could say to soothe the sting of a 41-33 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII.
Players were not required to speak with the media, which left little clarity about one of the more pressing questions pertaining to the fate of cornerback Malcolm Butler and why he was benched as the Eagles torched the Patriots defense.
Butler, who played 97 percent of the Patriots’ snaps on defense this season, was active but only played one special teams snap. Instead the Patriots rolled with Eric Rowe, who played 95 percent of the defensive snaps.
After the game, coach Bill Belichick called it a football decision to bench Butler, who became a defensive fixture after his game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX. Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who was officially named head coach of the Detroit Lions Monday, said “we just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had.”
Belichick said little to clear the air on his weekly conference call with reporters.
“I addressed [it] after the game,” Belichick said Monday. “I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness and I am sure that he felt like he could have helped. I am sure other players felt the same way, but in the end, we have to make the decisions that we feel are best for the football team and that is what we did, that is what I did.
“That’s really all I can say about it.”
Pressed on the matter, Belichick did not budge. A source close to Butler said that no other explanation had been given other than that it was a coach’s decision.
According to a report from ESPN, Butler after the game 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.”
The only player who even acknowledged the issue Monday afternoon was linebacker Eric Lee, who joined the team in November.
“I’m the wrong guy to ask about that,” Lee said.
Johnson Bademosi, who played 11 snaps as the third cornerback, briefly appeared in the locker room and was frustrated when a throng of reporters approached him.
“I don’t owe you guys [crap],” Bademosi said.
Earlier this season, Butler visited the New Orleans Saints as a restricted free agent, possibly exploring a sign-and-trade, but ultimately stayed with the Patriots.
Either way, the decision not to play Butler when the Patriots’ defense needed a big boost will linger whether Butler remains with the Patriots or not.
Rob Gronkowski caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, a monster performance that wasn’t enough to help the Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl championship.
His effort was dwarfed by questions about his future with the Patriots. Asked Sunday night whether he was considering retirement, Gronkowski said, “I don’t know how you heard that, but I’m definitely going to look at my future, for sure.”
Belichick addressed the comment on his Monday conference call and said that “five minutes after the game, or the day after the game, is not really the time to make those decisions.”
“At the end of every season, every person goes through somewhat of a process at the end of the season and then the following season,” Belichick said. “I think everyone that is involved in an NFL season, you get pretty drained especially after a season like this. [You] go through the end of the year process. The following year is the following year. It’s the same for everybody.
“I certainly can’t speak for anybody else. You’d have to ask any individual for every situation.”
Gronkowski sustained a concussion against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship game and missed a regular-season game against the Buccaneers because of a thigh injury. The big tight end, who has endured several injuries in his career, was placed on injured reserve in December 2016 after having back surgery and did not play in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
No Super Bowl victory means no celebratory hats and T-shirts for the Patriots, but the merchandise that is preprinted will be put to good use. The NFL partners with Good360 to donate and distribute excess merchandise from the AFC Championship, NFC Championship, and Super Bowl games. Good360 works with nonprofit partners to determine who has a need for a particular product, and who is capable of transporting and distributing the items to regions approved by the NFL. The goods are then shipped overseas and distributed to people in need in various locations, including Africa, Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East . . . An estimated 103.4 million people watched the Super Bowl on NBC, a 7 percent drop from last year, the Associated Press reported.
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