— By Jess Myers, The Sports Xchange —
MINNEAPOLIS — One play in the Super Bowl three years ago wrote cornerback Malcolm Butler’s place in New England Patriots lore. Zero plays in the Super Bowl this year may have signaled that Butler’s time in New England has come to an end.
Butler was the hero of Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona, when he intercepted Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson on the goal line in the closing seconds, preserving the Pats’ 28-24 win over the Seahawks. On Sunday against the Eagles, Butler did not play a single defensive snap, but did see some action on special teams. He had played all 74 snaps in the AFC Championship Game win over Jacksonville.
“They gave up on me,” an emotional Butler told espn.com as he walked to the team bus after the game. “F–. It is what it is.”
Butler was spotted near tears during the singing of the national anthem prior to the game.
Butler, who will be an unrestricted free agent, is a former Pro Bowler. A former Eagle, Eric Rowe, played most of the game in Butler’s place and struggled, as did most defensive players in this offensive extravaganza. Rowe was a second-round pick of the Eagles in 2015, and was traded to New England a year later.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick would not talk specifically about Butler and the decision to effectively bench him.
“We put the best players out there and the game plan out there that we thought would be the best tonight like we always do to give us the best chance to win,” said Belichick, who said “no” when asked if Butler was being disciplined.
“We just played all the guys we could to try to help us win in whatever packages we had,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “Different situations came up, and we were just trying to move some things around. We just had a situation where we had some matchups and packages that we went with.”
Butler was absent from Media Night last week with an illness, according to the team.
Three years ago, Butler was the fifth cornerback on New England’s depth chart coming into Super Bowl XLIX but replaced Kyle Arrington a nickel defensive back in the third quarter. Two plays after allowing a juggling 33-yard reception to Jermaine Kearse, Butler intercepted Wilson’s pass to Ricardo Lockette at the goal line with 20 seconds left to preserve New England’s fourth Super Bowl title.