Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Why did Belichick bench Butler? Don’t ask the Patriots

Why did Belichick bench Butler? Don’t ask the Patriots

New England head coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media after the Patriots lost 41-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52 at US Bank Stadium on Sunday.
New England head coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media after the Patriots lost 41-33 to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52 at US Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Why did Belichick bench Butler? Don’t ask the Patriots

Benjamin Hoffman

There was a company line among the New England Patriots, and no one was willing to cross it.

“You have to ask the coach,” Stephon Gilmore said when asked why his fellow starting cornerback, Malcolm Butler, was benched during the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. “I don’t know.”

It was more of the same from Duron Harmon, a safety: “You have to ask Coach. Coach makes all the personnel decisions and I just play football.”

Devin McCourty, also a safety, hardly elaborated compared to his fellow defensive backs, but he at least acknowledged that they were not talking. “We’re all just there ready to go,” he said. “We don’t talk – it’s a coach’s decision.”

That coach, of course, is Bill Belichick, the famously tightlipped mastermind behind the Patriots’ five Super Bowl championships.

And the player he benched is not just the starting cornerback, but the hero of New England’s victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

Butler sealed that victory with a late-game interception of Seattle’s Russell Wilson, cementing his place in New England’s rich football history.

For some teams, asking the coach might provide some illumination into a controversial decision like this one. But with the Patriots, the line of questioning hit a complete dead end.

“No,” Belichick said when asked if Butler was benched for a disciplinary reason. “Yes,” he replied when asked if it was a strictly football decision.

When pushed to offer something more, at least in terms of why Eric Rowe, a backup cornerback, was a better fit than Butler to start against the Eagles, Belichick elaborated ever so slightly. “We put the best players out there and the gameplan out there because we thought it’d be the best to win,” he said.

Rowe said he found out about the switch just before the game on Sunday. He praised Butler’s talent, and did not shy away from the many missteps that both he and the rest of the team’s secondary made in the game. Asked if Butler could have helped, Rowe said: “Yeah, we could have used anybody.”

Whatever the reason, Butler’s benching backfired. The decision to limit him to special teams play, whether it was based on matchups, unhappiness with his recent play, or a punishment that Belichick was unwilling to discuss, resulted in the Patriots playing the game without a cornerback who had been on the field for more than 97 percent of their defensive snaps this season, more than any other defensive player.

When you consider that Nick Foles, the Eagles’ backup quarterback, shredded the Patriots’ secondary for 373 passing yards, and the Eagles converted 10 of 16 third-down opportunities, the absence of a stalwart of the defence could not have stood out more as something in need of an explanation.

A visibly distraught Butler discussed the game with ESPN before he left US Bank Stadium and he seemed truly convinced that the team had simply soured on his ability to help them.

“I guess I wasn’t playing good,” he said. “They didn’t feel comfortable.”

But he also added words that likely resonated for every frustrated Patriots fan who watched as the Eagles repeatedly found space in the secondary when he said: “I could have changed that game though.”

MOST VIEWED

  • PM to vet NY holiday dates

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance submitted a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to formally set a five-day national holiday from August 17-21 to make up for the Khmer New Year holiday in April that was postponed. Finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth sent

  • Cambodia rejects UN rights claim

    Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and

  • Snaring may spawn diseases

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that snaring of animals has become a crisis that poses a serious risk to wildlife in Southeast Asia and could spawn the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans. Its July 9 report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’

  • Ex-party leader, gov’t critic named as secretary of state

    A former political party leader known for being critical of the government has been appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, a royal decree dated July 9 said. Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party (KPP), told The Post

  • Residence cards set for over 80,000 immigrants

    The Ministry of Interior plans to grant residence cards to more than 80,000 immigrants to better keep track of them. The ministry announced the plan on July 10, following the results of an immigration census. “An inter-ministerial committee and many operational working groups have been set up

  • Kingdom produces PPE gear

    Medical supplies from Cambodia have been donated to member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to assist in the fight against Covid-19, said an ADB report published on July 9. The report stated that the supplies were donated as a response to global efforts to

  • Kingdom, US vow stronger ties

    At an academic forum on Saturday to celebrate 70 years of Cambodia-US diplomatic ties, Cambodian researchers and officials expressed hope of encouraging US investments and for that country to deepen and improve its bilateral relations. Held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, it reviewed the past 70

  • ‘Single Portal’ integrated registration system welcomes nearly 50 firms

    Forty-seven companies have successfully registered via a newly-launched information technology e-business registration platform as of the end of the second week of this month, Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Phan Phalla said. Six ministries and state-run institutions have been integrated into a

  • Battambang artist brings giant animals to life

    The giant reptile’s gaping mouth appears ready to consume its latest victim. It stands taller than a person and is incredibly life-like with authentic colours, a long spiky tail and detailed scales adorning its entire body. If it wasn’t 13m long, you may

  • Fifteen Cambodians from Saudi get Covid-19

    The Ministry of Health on Sunday confirmed 15 more imported cases of Covid. The 15 men ‒ all Cambodian aged 21 to 33 ‒ arrived from Saudi Arabia on Friday via a connecting flight in Malaysia. They were travelling with 79 other passengers, three of them women. The ministry said 80 of the