(Day two as we try and string some good days together in this space heading into the rest of the offseason. Subscribe via the email form at the bottom if you’d like to get this and other local media delivered to your inbox each morning.)
It’s hard to believe it’s been just over a month since the Patriots’ loss to the Eagles, but as difficult as it’s been to take for those who were hoping to see the Patriots get a sixth championship, the one thing we still don’t have an answer to is the decision that will be talked about forever here in New England given the outcome.
Many had hoped that details would have slowly emerged following the game regarding the real reasons behind Malcolm Butler’s benching, yet here we are a month later still scratching our heads over how a player who played in 100% of the snaps in both the Divisional Round and AFC Championship game could have been benched due to a “football decision”. That left him on the sideline while Philadelphia marched up and down the field and amassed 374-yards passing while only punting once during the whole contest. The assumption when it was over was that the details would slowly leak out eventually, but Bill Belichick stuck to his guns in the days following their defeat, holding fast to the reason behind the veteran cornerback’s benching being football-related and not due to any discipline issue.
“I appreciate the question, but it would be a much longer discussion,” Belichick said when asked again the next day. “There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”
What it was is still something that without the true context, will never make any real sense. It’s hard to believe that for a player who played nearly every snap in every game this season, including both playoff games, wasn’t good enough to play in the most important game of the year, especially given how the game ultimately played out.
That’s why the idea of it being performance based seems unlikely. The argument then remains that it had to have been some sort of disciplinary issue or something – Belichick had to have had a reason – that kept him on the sideline. Whatever that reason was, Belichick still should have found some sort of happy medium to get his point across while not handcuffing his team on the very stage that every single player in that locker room worked so hard to get to.
NBC Sports Boston’s Mike Giardi seemed to be the one most dialed in on Butler’s situation, reporting that a curfew violation may have been the reason behind the benching. Some players told Giardi that curfew is a matter Belichick takes seriously, and that Butler is ultimately to blame for the outcome.
“I think there is some [disappointment toward Butler],” said Giardi. “They feel bad for him, but yet [they would tell him] ‘You put yourself in this position, too.'”
Looking back to when Belichick sat Wes Welker in the playoff game against the Jets, Welker sat out the first series. When it comes to Butler, it’s hard not to believe that sitting Butler for the entire first half wouldn’t have been enough of a message for the veteran cornerback.
After all, like the rest of his teammates, he had an allotment of tickets where his family and friends were likely in the stands, and missing the first two quarters would certainly have been enough to penalize him. It also likely would have fired him up enough where he would have hit the field on a mission in the second half, giving the team both a player with something to prove, while forcing Philadelphia to at least spend a good portion of the third and potentially early fourth quarter trying to re-adjust.
Instead, it never came to be and in the end, they squandered an incredible performance by their offense in a game where one defensive stop could have been the difference. It’s one thing to lose a game giving everything you have with every available player in the locker room. It’s another to lose with one of your better defenders on the sideline and be left with a defeat that didn’t need to happen.
Unlike past Super Bowl losses, that’s unfortunately what this one feels like. For a man who is normally flawless in his decision-making, it’s hard not to feel like he might have gotten this one wrong. Unfortunately, while he may have made his point with Butler, he’s left everyone else forced to deal with a disappointing loss and a lifetime of questions that we may never truly get answers to.
Branch’s days as a Patriot appear to be over.
Branch’s Days Appear Numbered – In his third year with the team in 2016, veteran tackle Alan Branch appeared to be on his way to emerging into a nice fit in a defense that was in need of a tough veteran presence inside.
Branch seemed to give them that. In this third year with the team, he finished the regular season with 49 tackles including 1.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and a forced fumble. In the playoffs, that success continued as he finished with a quarterback hit, half of a sack, and a fumble recovery.
As a result, last offseason the team rewarded him with a two-year deal and seemingly added another player to the foundation they were putting together. But much like their luck has seemed to be in recent years, one of the players they thought they could count on ended up being one that turned in the wrong direction by the time the season was over.
After playing in 62% of the opener against the Chiefs, Branch’s playing time began to diminish and a knee injury in Week 14 sidelined him for the final three games of the regular season.
Branch declared himself “Good to Go” prior to the game against the Titans in the Divisional round and never saw the field, and he also missed the AFC Championship. Heading into the Super Bowl, he was absent from the injury report, which would leave you to believe the reasoning may have gone deeper than the injury.
Branch already sounds like the Patriots are his former team. He told WEEI in an interview last month that he has no idea why Butler didn’t play, and his reference to the team certainly raises a red flag while wondering what went wrong for a player who had seemed like he might be one of their key players moving forward.
“I noticed he wasn’t in the game, but then again you never know the reason for what is going on at certain times in that organization, especially,” said Branch. “It’s neither here nor there.”
Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal wrote on Monday that it’s “almost certain” the Patriots will release Branch before the league calendar year starts on March 14th.
Gilmore made a less than flattering list after a tough start in 2017.
Patriots Make The Wrong List For Free Agents – Anyone who follows the site “Over The Cap” knows that those guys tend to do a pretty good job and they published an interesting article looking at who they believe qualified among the top 30 worst signings of 2017.
Making that list at #26 was Stephon Gilmore, who signed a 5-year, $65 million deal that seemingly ignited the problems with Butler and led to weeks of frustration in the early going while the newcomer struggled to get on the same page with his new teammates.
Gilmore eventually settled in down the stretch and played well, which should give him some pretty good momentum heading into 2018. Butler will likely be long gone by then, with the next question being who will be the next to try and solidify the other side opposite Gilmore.
Meanwhile, coming in just ahead of Gilmore was former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, who signed a 4-year extension in Cleveland worth a reported $50 million. Collins had a tough year after finishing with 1 sack and 21 tackles over six games before his season was cut short with an MCL injury suffered against the Lions.
Other notable names who made the top five was Brian Hoyer (#4), who earned the honor after signing a 2-year $12 million deal in San Francisco that saw him get benched after 5.5 games, only to end up getting released and landing back in New England. Martellus Bennett came in at #3 on the list thanks to his 3-year, $21 million deal in Green Bay that went south after he declared himself injured following Aaron Rodgers’ injury, leading to him being waived. That allowed New England to claim him, but he ultimately ended up on injured reserve here not long after.
Earning the #1 spot was Kenny Britt, who signed a 4-year, $32.5 million deal with $10.5 million guaranteed in Cleveland and joins the list of castaways who also got a shot in New England in 2017. Britt played in the final three games of the season for the Patriots, with his play time peaking in the regular season finale against the Jets where he played 29-of-86 snaps. Overall, he finished with just two receptions for 23-yards and was inactive during the postseason.
Prospect Discusses Being Interviewed by Belichick – The Patriots apparently interviewed Stanford Safety Justin Reid at the NFL Combine and he came away feeling pretty confident with how things went.
According to Reid, he was fairly awestruck when he walked into the room, and he spent 20-minutes going over different things with the Patriots staff.
“It was cool. I know they heard about kind of how intelligent of a player I am, so they wanted to quiz me to see what I knew,” Reid said via NESN. “They brought up some film and asked me what I was doing in this coverage, what were some of the linebackers doing in the coverage. What I was thinking, what I saw, some formation alerts, some formation tendencies, things like that. Just to get a feel for how I saw the defense, and I feel like I left an impression.”
Reid is projected by several publications to be a day two selection. Here are a couple of videos on him:
Cardona, Wise and Hoyer Creating Smiles – While things like this tend to fly under the radar, there were three Patriots spending time on Monday trying to bring a little joy out in the community.
The Providence Journal caught up with Deatrich Wise, Joe Cardona and Brian Hoyer, who were all spending time serving pancakes to pediatric patients at Boston Children’s Hospital..
Cardona, who is getting ready to fly to Korea in two weeks to take part in “an exercise”, said that the opportunity to make the kids happy was one he definitely enjoyed.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity to come out and do something in the community that’s a little bit different,” Cardona said. “But always something that we know we can see how happy these kids are and just to have a break from what they’re dealing with different. It’s something that’s exciting for them.”
As for Wise, he’s no stranger to getting out in the community and he also had a lot of fun while hopefully making everyone’s day a little brighter.
“It is new, but I’ve always done community service, even when I was younger and I often think about it – people being happy to see me,” Wise said. “It’s humbling to be around kids and their families. Just to see their smiles is heartwarming.”
According to the Journal’s Mark Daniels, there were plenty of smiles around the room thanks to those three players. Good stuff.
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