For now, the gap is being filled by those in the know who are choosing to risk incurring the Wrath of Bill by whispering alleged reasons on an off-the-record basis.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media claims that the benching resulted from a “perfect storm” of problems. Per Rapoport, Butler fought an illness last week, he had a rough week of practice, and he committed a minor violation of team rules, related to a curfew violation.
Apart from the fact that the illness may have affected performance in practice, who can forget the tales of Butler struggling to defend in practice three years ago the very play that made him a household name at the end of Super Bowl XLIX? With so much buildup and preparation for the Super Bowl, not everyone is going to execute perfectly when things don’t count. The question is whether they’ll show up when it matters — and we’ll never know whether Butler would have.
Regardless of the reasons, the timing of the implementation of the decision continues to be an issue. Kirk Minihane of WEEI claims that, while the benching wasn’t disciplinary in nature, Belichick made the decision only “a few hours” before the game, caused “many coaches and players” to be shocked and prompting some to be “furious.” Minihane claims that the move “divided” the locker room.
Apart from the less-than-impeccable timing is the fact that Butler’s replacements stunk. The New England defense simply wasn’t stopping the Eagles. And that’s where Belichick’s stubborn refusal to give Butler a rep or two in order to see whether he’d show up when it matters (like he did in Super Bowl XLIX) became problematic for the team. It’s the sweet spot where situational football and emotional intelligence meet. Belichick, who always masters the former, failed as to the latter.
Really, if Belichick didn’t believe in Butler, why wasn’t Butler inactive for the game? Instead, he ultimately played only one more snap than the only guy on the New England 46-man roster who didn’t enter the game at all — backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.