FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler has endeared himself to fans for many reasons, with his Super Bowl XLIX-saving interception atop the list. His rise from underdog to key contributor has been one of the team’s feel-good stories in recent years.
On Thursday, Butler gave fans another reason to appreciate what he’s all about.
In the midst of the toughest stretch of his career since he became a full-time starter in 2015, with him losing his starting spot for the first time in Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, Butler said there is only one place to point the finger: at himself.
His level of accountability was high.
“I haven’t been performing at the level that I should be performing at,” he said. “There’s no excuses.”
Butler’s reduced role, which came after a costly pass interference penalty in the end zone in a season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and struggles with the long ball and in the end zone in the preseason, stood out in the Patriots’ win over the Saints on Sunday.
After he played 98.8 percent of the defensive snaps in 2015, and then 96.7 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016, it was eye-opening to see Butler utilized only in the team’s three-cornerback nickel package. The Patriots opened the game with Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe as their top cornerbacks.
Butler said the decision wasn’t a surprise to him, and he was willing to accept any role. At the same time, he spoke with confidence that he will return to his previous higher level of play.
“I’m finding my way back, you better believe that,” he said. “Complaining or feeling sorry for myself is not going to make me perform better. I just have to keep it rolling. I’m going to get it rolling. That’s what I have to do.”
Scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season, Butler was asked how difficult it has been to put the business side of the game aside, as well as trade rumors. He said he tries not to pay attention to trade rumors and, “This is where I play, this is where I’m happy at; just have to continue doing my thing.”
He added that he has been through more challenging times in his career than what he’s currently dealing with, saying, “If I can handle that and make it to the NFL, I can put my mind together to make it past this situation. Just have to perform better. It’s still early, but need a sense of urgency and you’ll see that."
Butler said he hasn’t been told if he’ll be back in the starting lineup for Sunday’s home game against the Houston Texans. With Gilmore and Rowe both slowed by groin injuries this week, it’s possible he will be thrust back into that familiar starting spot.
Regardless, he said his approach is the same.
“Playing like it, practicing like it. I’ll be ready,” he said. “It starts at practice.”