MINNEAPOLIS — Malcolm Butler couldn’t save the Patriots this time.
The cornerback who clinched Super Bowl XLIX with an interception on the goal line was suited up for Super Bowl LII, but he did not play a single defensive snap in what likely was his final game for the team. The reason for that remained a mystery shortly after the Patriots lost to the Eagles, 41-33.
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” Butler said to reporters in the Patriots’ somber postgame locker room. He apparently changed his mind on the way to the team bus. “They gave up on me,” he said, per ESPN Boston. “[Expletive], it is what it is . . . I guess I wasn’t playing good or they didn’t feel comfortable. I don’t know. But I could have changed that game.”
Butler was in tears during the national anthem, which at the time seemed to be based on the prospect of playing for a championship. It turned out it might have been from the disappointment of having to watch the game.
“He’s played a lot of football,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “We all want to be out there. I know Malcolm wants to be out there. I’m not surprised that he’s emotional.”
Asked if it was “weird” that Butler was in uniform and not inactive if the Patriots had no intention of using him, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said: “We needed enough guys to be active for the game . . . If he was called upon, he was ready to play in those packages.”
Bill Belichick was similarly mum. “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,” he said. Asked if Butler was held out because of disciplinary reasons, Belichick responded, “No.”
Butler did play a few snaps on special teams, but the secondary snaps went primarily to Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi.
Said Patricia, “We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense and those guys that were out there were out there for all the situations that we needed them for. We just felt good about some of those situations that we had out there and some of the matchups that we had based on the skill sets they have.”
Could Butler have helped the Patriots? Even his replacement thought so. “We could have used anybody,” said Rowe, who added that the decision for him to start in Butler’s place was not finalized until kickoff. “I feel for him.”
The former Patriots on the Eagles were shocked by Butler’s benching. “Golly,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said when told that his former teammate did not play. “That’s tough, man. He’s a hell of a player.”
Added Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount: “I don’t know what that was about. He’s a game-changing player and I hope he’s OK.”