MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. --The Patriots fell to the Eagles 41-33 in Super Bowl LII, leaving New England's entire roster in a somewhat catatonic state following the shocking loss.
But the team's defensive backs were even more at a loss to explain why former Pro Bowl cornerback and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler didn't play a single snap on defense against the Eagles.
New England's pass defense never had an answer for Nick Foles and the Philly attack, but found it even harder to come up with an answer for why Butler, who admittedly had an up-and-down season, never stepped on the field.
"Ask coach," safety and team captain Duron Harmon said. "Coach makes all personnel decisions. I just play football."
The media did ask Bill Belichick, but got little info out of the notoriously tight-lipped New England leader. He acknowledged that Butler was healthy and reiterated what NBC reported during the telecast, that it was a "coach's decision."
"We put the players and the game plan out that we feel would be best tonight," Belichick said.
That game plan included Eric Rowe starting at cornerback opposite Stephon Gilmore, something the usual third corner/backup didn't learn until kickoff. It included plenty of packages with four safeties on the field, with Jordan Richards joining the usual trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Harmon. It also included Johnson Bademosi getting more reps than he's been used to over the second half of the season.
Butler left the losing Super Bowl locker room without talking to reporters, though he did tell NBC Sports Boston that he was given no reason for his benching.
ESPN Boston caught up to cornerback in the tunnel, heading toward the team bus.
"They gave up on me. F---," Butler told ESPN. "It is what it is.
"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."
The decision and the losing effort left the defensive backs at a loss for words when they tried to explain the curious decision and dismal results.
"He could have helped us, maybe, I don't know," Gilmore said trailing off.
Butler's teammates praised the soon-to-be-free agent for his professionalism on the sideline in a tough spot that appeared to even leave the cornerback in tears at times in the bench area.
"He's a great team player," Rowe said, to the point of supporting his replacement after he gave up the game's opening touchdown to Alshon Jeffrey. "After the first touchdown he came up to me and said 'Keep playing.' He's a great teammate."
"A lot of respect for Malcolm for being a great teammate today," Harmon added.
While it's likely Butler could have helped given his experience in big games and track record of playmaking, regardless of what his level of play has been at times this season, McCourty wasn't willing to go there.
"It doesn't even matter," McCourty said. "It didn't happen. No point even talking about it."
But talk about it there will be in the coming days. The exact reason for Butler's benching may never be known, but it certainly had a major effect on Super Bowl LII and clearly left the cornerback's teammates at a loss for answers.