It sounds like Bill Belichick may take this secret to his grave.
More than two years removed from the Patriots’ 41-33 defeat in Super Bowl LII, the NFL community is no closer to unearthing the truth behind the stunning decision to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler in favor of Eric Rowe.
“No, I have actually asked quite a few guys who were on the team at the time and I have not got the same answer twice,” former Patriots running back Shane Vereen told WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni and Fauria on Wednesday. “The grassy knoll still exists.”
On Feb. 4, 2018, helpless Patriots fans watched in exasperation as Butler — who had become somewhat of a deity in New England after his goal-line interception during Super Bowl XLIX — warmed the bench for the better part of the high-scoring affair.
“They gave up on me,” the defensive back said after the game. “F–k. It is what it is,”
The game set the record for most combined yards, fewest punts and most points scored by a losing team. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles completed 28 of 43 pass attempts for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also reeled in a one-yard touchdown, infamously coined the “Philly Special,” and was awarded the Super Bowl MVP award.
Butler, 30, was used on special teams plays and it would be his final game with the Patriots, signing with the Titans in free agency a month later.
In good Belichick form, he and the team furnished little explanation for the head-scratching decision in the ensuing days.
“We put the players out there and the game plan out there that we thought would be the best tonight, like we always do,” Belichick said.
Some, including former Patriot Brandon Browner, postulated that Butler’s absence was a punitive measure for marijuana possession and breaking curfew.
Butler, who had been sick with the flu earlier in the week, maintained the decision was not a disciplinary one and told the Boston Herald months later that he “never got a reason.”
“They probably thought I was kind of late on the game plan,” he said. “I wasn’t as locked in as I should be and could have been a matchup deal. It could have been anything.”