Patriots ended the season the way they started

Staff photo by TOM KING Rumors are swirling about what caused Malcolm Butler to be benched by the Patriots for Super Bowl LII.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – The season began with the New England Patriots defense giving up a plethora of yards and points – 537 and 42to be exact – to an offense very similar to that of the now Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles – that of the Kansas City Chiefs.

They ended it giving up an uncanningly similar 538 yards and 41 points to the offense the Eagles coach Doug Pederson used to run in Kansas City.

Thus, defense was the focus of fans’ ire and worries at the start of the season, and it was the same at the end. But in losing the Super Bowl, the Patriots couldn’t win despite their Hall of Fame quarterback throwing for over 500 yards and producing an incredible 613 yards of offense. And to make it worse, one of their best overall defenders the last couple of years, cornerback Malcolm Butler, was on the field for one play – on special teams.

And, of course, there’s no plausible explanation coming from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness,” Belichick said on Monday in a conference call. “I’m sure that he felt like he could’ve helped. I’m sure other players felt the same way. In the end, we have to make decisions that are best for the football team.”

Butler’s replacements, Eric Rowe and Johnson Bademosi, were constantly toasted by Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. When asked why Bademosi was used as a third corner Monday, Belichick said, “He practiced it the most.”

Double ouch. When you lose, you want to lose with your best players on the field. Not a Johnson Bademosi.

Even former Patriots have been chiming in. Former Pats corner Ty Law tweeted “I’m baffled about this one,” he said. “We needed that man (Butler) on the field.”

Butler’s disappointment has been well documented since Sunday night.

“They gave up on me,” Butler told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. “Bleep. It is what it is. …

“It was a coach’s decision. I was just doing my job and supporting my teammates. I have nothing but great things to say about the organization. They gave me an opportunity. That’s about it.”

Discipline? Not according to Belichick late Sunday night, although there were a couple of unsubstantiated social media rumors out there to the contrary. Whatever the reason, it was one that, reportedly, Patriot captains knew had been made prior to the game. Why would they know that for a football reason?

“We put the best players out there and the game plan out there because we thought it’d be the best (way) to win,”Belichick said post-game.

Rowe said he didn’t know he was starting until kickoff. And he certainly didn’t expect Butler not to play. Not a player who missed just 26 defensive snaps in the entire season.

“No, that wasn’t the plan,” Rowe said. “He is an amazing player. … We could have used anybody. Whoever the coaches throw in, obviously, we have full confidence in them to affect the game. We could have used anybody.”

“We were just trying to run some packages we had on defense,” Patriots defensive coordinator – at least until he gets hired to coach the Lions – said. “Those guys that were out there were out there for all the situations we needed them for. So, it kind of turned out that way and the game with the way it went and some of the situations that came up, that was just kind of the way it went.”

Butler hadn’t practiced much prior to the Super Bowl. He didn’t arrive here with the team due to flu-like symptoms, was limited in practice Wednesday, practiced fully Thursday and, supposedly, Friday.

“Again, we had some guys in different spots that we practiced, and in those spots for a couple of weeks. We just felt good about some of those situations out there.”

Patricia and Butler likely have one thing in common – they have both appeared in their last game as Patriots. Butler is an unrestricted free agent and it certainly seems as though the Patriots likely won’t bring him back. And after Sunday, it seems he wouldn’t want to be back, anyway.

“Yeah, he is a very emotional guy,” Rowe said. “He has a lot of passion for the game. It’s not often you go to the Super Bowl. I know he has gone a few times, but I feel for him.”

You never know what Belichcik will do in the off-season in terms of tweaking this team. You would figure he’d again start on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots are thin at linebacker. They still don’t have that dominant pass rusher. They’ll still have to replace Butler if Eric Rowe’s Super Bowl is any indication.

How ironic that many wondered why spend a ton of money on corner Stephon Gilmore and not invest in Butler, especially after the way he played early in the season. Well, in the Super Bowl, Gilmore was arguably the Patriots’ best defensive player on the field. Foles avoided throwing in his direction at all costs.

What burned the Patriots in their 2-2 start came back to haunt them in their final, most important game.

“You would rather not be here if you lose,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “It’s just the truth.”

We’re still looking for one truth regarding Butler. But the Patriots defensive deficiencies are part of the truth as well.