(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Malcolm Butler's Absence Hangs Over Patriots' Worst Defensive Effort Of Season In Super Bowl Loss

In the end, the Patriots defense simply didn't have the personnel to match up with the Eagles' arsenal of weapons. Nor could they find a way to slow down Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who matched Tom Brady with three touchdowns and added a touchdown reception on a trick play at the end of the first half. The Pats simply had no answers for Philly on defense.

But what hangs ominously over the Patriots' loss in Super Bowl LII more than anything is the strange absence of cornerback Malcolm Butler.

Bill Belichick had Butler active for the game on Sunday, but kept him on the bench for the entire game. He simply made a coach's decision to keep Butler off the field. There's no telling whether Butler's presence would have made a difference, but there's no denying what happened with the players that were on the field.

Eric Rowe started and played the majority of the snaps alongside cornerback Stephon Gilmore. While he did not play the worst game of the Patriots' defensive backs, he let the Eagles draw first blood when Alshon Jeffery get behind him for the game's first touchdown. He also contributed to the Patriots' inability to stop the Eagles on third down.

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots warms up prior to Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Butler saga only got more strange after the game. ESPN's Mike Reiss caught up with an "emotional" Butler just before he left, and when asked about his absence from the game the cornerback said "They gave up on me. [Expletive]. It is what it is."

Butler added: "I don't know what it was. I guess I wasn't playing good or they didn't feel comfortable. I don't know. But I could have changed that game."

Expectedly, Butler's shocking absence didn't draw an explanation from Belichick, who simply said "We put the best players out there in the gameplan that we thought would be the best tonight."

Belichick said after the game that Butler's benching was not for disciplinary reasons, and was only related to football. According to NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was asked how Butler could not play a single snap after starting 17 of the Patriots' 18 games. He simply said "Packages. Couldn't get everyone in."

Obviously, that's not a totally genuine answer and not sufficient for fans that just had to watch the Patriots defense get shredded for 60 minutes. If you were told before the game that Tom Brady would throw for over 500 yards and three touchdowns and the patriots would score 33 points, you would never think the Patriots would lose. Ultimately, the Patriots' poor execution and lack of talent and depth on defense did them in on that side of the ball, and in the game overall.

The defense certainly has issues that go beyond one player, that go beyond Butler. And at the same time, Butler did not have his best season in 2017 or a good postseason. But at the end of the day, the Patriots benched one of their most talented, competitive defensive players and then the team had its worst defensive performance of the season. It's hard to call that a total coincidence.

-- By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].