(Reuters) - Three years after emerging an unlikely Super Bowl hero for the New England Patriots, Malcolm Butler mysteriously spent most of Sunday’s championship game defeat sitting on the sidelines.
Cornerback Butler did not play a single snap against the Philadelphia Eagles, relegated instead to special teams, a diminished role that clearly did not sit well with him.
Coach Bill Belichick said “football reasons ” were behind the decision to bench Butler, but did not otherwise expand.
Butler covered his eyes with his left hand during the pre-game rendition of “God Bless America” and afterwards said he could have changed the course of the game, which the Patriots lost 41-33.
“They gave up on me,” he said on an audio recording aired on ESPN.
”It is what it is. It was coach’s decision... 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 though.”
Butler, 27, who has appeared in three Super Bowls, played more than 97 percent of defensive snaps during the regular season, the most of any New England player.
He was replaced on Sunday by Eric Rowe, and Butler watched on feeling helpless as the Eagles ran up 538 yards.
Butler became an instant hero in New England after making the game-saving interception for the Patriots against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 season.
Butler now becomes an unrestricted free agent but he was not ready to speculate on his future.
“I ain’t Miss Cleo,” he said, referring to a famous self-described psychic.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Adelaide, South Australia; Editing by John O'Brien