Why was Malcolm Butler allowed to play on special teams but not defense?

Malcolm Butler
New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler warms up before the Patriots host the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium. –Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Welcome to Boston.com’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through TwitterFacebook, email, his Friday chat, and any other outlet you prefer. He’ll pick one each weekday to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation. 

As disappointing as it was, maybe Malcolm Butler did something to justify Bill Belichick punishing him. But what I don’t get is why he was allowed to play special teams (for one play) but nothing else. How does that make any sense? – Mike R.


I’m with you, Mike. That’s the most bizarre aspect of this, and I don’t know the answer.

I suspect some of the Patriots reporters are getting close to unearthing the details of what happened and why he was punished. Mike Giardi is as plugged in as anyone in the locker room, and he said on Toucher and Rich this morning that it was curfew-related, and he didn’t have a good week of practice after the transgression. That makes some sense. And his teammates would have a right to be frustrated with him if that’s how this played out.

What doesn’t make sense is, well, pretty much everything else in terms of how the Patriots handled it: Dressing Butler, not telling the team he was sitting until right before the game, allowing him to play on the punt team, but not putting the defensive leader in snaps after it became clear the Eagles were going to be able to exploit any mismatch that presented itself. I thought Belichick looked at offense, defense, and special teams as three nearly equal phases. Yet Butler is allowed to play one, but not another?

And even if there’s a kernel of truth to Matt Patricia’s postgame comment about how it was about matchups … I mean, c’mon. I’ll take Butler in his worst mental state over Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards during their very best. Even when he gives up a play, he almost always makes the tackle.


Maybe it was worse than we know, but I doubt it, and it stinks that this stains the memory of one of the best stories in Patriots history. This wasn’t about matchups. This was about proving a point. And it backfired.

I imagine we’ll find out why Butler was at fault here soon enough. We knew during the game that Belichick was wrong for burying him. You might be at a parade today if he’d righted his wrong before the game was over.

What do you think? Why was Malcolm Butler allowed to play special teams but not defense? I’ll hear you in the comments.

Loading Comments...