By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Adam Butler knows what it's like to make the Super Bowl better than most second-year players. But he doesn't know what it's like to win it. Not yet.
The Patriots and their sophomore defensive tackle have a rare opportunity on Sunday, as they try to avenge last February's Super Bowl loss. It's important to them to put aside the disappointment of losing Super Bowl LII to the Philadelphia Eagles, because the Los Angeles Rams are an entirely new and unrelated challenge.
But Butler, like his teammates Kyle Van Noy and Patrick Chung also admitted, can't help but let the disappointment linger. If only to sharpen his focus, to avoid complacency.
"We didn’t come out with the result we wanted last year," Butler told 985TheSportsHub.com. "I just keep it in the back of my mind. It’s not at the forefront, but it’s in the back of my mind. I don’t want to have that feeling again this year. I’m just going to focus even harder than I did last year, and I feel like I focused pretty hard last year. But you’ve got to kick it up a notch, so that the end result is different."
Butler has had to up his game since the moment he entered the league. An undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, he stepped into Gillette Stadium eager to show 31 other teams why they should have signed him. But he quickly learned that draft stock doesn't necessarily predict success.
"I’ve come to realize that none of that stuff really matters," Butler said. "It’s really what you do with your opportunity. There’s plenty of people who have been drafted in the earlier rounds and they’re out the door after a couple of years. It just depends on the situations. It really just depends on what you do with your opportunity."
Butler has made the most of his. His "Welcome to the Patriots" moment came last January, when he racked up a sack and QB hit on Marcus Mariota in a 35-14 divisional round win over the Titans. He's since risen from a rotational pass rusher to the most-used interior defender on the team in recent weeks. He played a season-high 52 snaps (73 percent) against the Los Angeles Chargers in a key role in the divisional round, notching a hit on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Butler's disruption up the middle helped the Pats consistently flush Rivers out of the pocket and hold the explosive Chargers offense to just seven first-half points.
His workload plummeted in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, as the Patriots mainly played smaller, speedier defensive packages to keep up with Kansas City's dynamic passing attack. Butler's role figures to increase again in Super Bowl LIII, where arguably the No. 1 goal of the defense will be to blow up the pocket and make 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff uneasy.
"He’s dangerous," Butler said of Goff. "We let him sit back there comfortably, then he’ll hit some nice throws, because he’s done it all season long. Like I said, he’s earned the right to be here just like we have. So we’ve got to respect him, and just do everything we can to get him off the spot."
Butler knows he can't change the past. But what he and the Patriots can control is how they answer for last year. And what they can't do now is let another Super Bowl slip away.
"That team is that team. This team is this team," Butler said. "It really doesn’t matter. We’ve just got another opportunity to make it right."
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].