Nine months later, Belichick benching Butler remains Super blunder

Alan Greenwood

Subplots litter many Patriots games. How could they not with Bill Belichick coaching, Tom Brady quarterbacking and former Patriots scattered across the NFL?

The Pats will face the Tennessee Titans this afternoon and most of the chatter has focused on Mike Vrabel, three-ring Super Bowl hero and another Belichick disciple now serving as an NFL head coach.

And then there is Malcolm Butler, without whose goal-line interception Belichick and Brady would remain one ring short of a fistful. The subplot within this subplot is, of course, Butler’s near-complete absence from Super Bowl LII, his departure from the Patriots and his so-far miserable performance for the Titans.

There remains no clear reason for Belichick chaining Butler to the bench in February’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. This empowered the In-Bill-We-Trust faction of blind loyalists to use Butler’s failure in his first season away from Foxborough to absolve the coach of responsibility for that defeat.

“See, Bill knew what he was doing. If he’d played Butler the Eagles would have scored 80 points.”

As it was, the Eagles scored 41 points, and we will never know if Butler could have helped the defense avoid that infamy. We are still left with the fact that Belichick did not put his best defensive team on the field.

Whatever Butler did to cause his banishment is irrelevant. Belichick’s mantra is anchored by putting his team in the best position to win the game; using the Super Bowl to deliver a life lesson to Butler and his teammates lands on the far side of indefensible.

TIME TRAVEL: Nov. 11, 1968 – “A fired up Bishop Guertin football squad overcame both the frigid weather and Notre Dame High of Fitchburg Saturday afternoon at Holman Stadium to record their fourth victory season, 22-0, over the Crusaders.

“The Nashua parochials stuck to pre-game plans offensively to score three touchdowns while a brilliant defensive effort headed by John Gall and John Purcell held the Fitchburg offense in check.”

BY THE NUMBERS: Bill James, godfather of baseball’s modern addiction to bloodless strategy by balance sheets, exposed his empty soul last week. In an online discussion of player salaries, James typed, “If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”

In other words, who needs players we can field digital ghosts programmed with all the metrics one could ever imagine.

The Red Sox, who list James as a senior adviser, issued a quick apology on his behalf.

Maybe baseball’s waning grip on its fandom goes beyond the pace of its games.

Alan Greenwood can be reached at 594-1248, agreenwood or @Telegraph_ AlanG.