FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the New England Patriots preparing to begin their playoff quest with hopes of winning their second Super Bowl championship in three years, it's timely to revisit what has unfolded with the player primarily responsible for delivering the most recent Lombardi trophy.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler had made a vow not to let his game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX be the only play he was remembered by. He didn't want to be the backup cornerback no one ever heard from again.
About that vow?
"When you put the film on, you see a guy that's playing, in my opinion, as one of the best cornerbacks in the league," marveled Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien.
Butler and the Patriots host O'Brien's Texans on Saturday night in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs, a game that New England is heavily favored to win. But the Patriots aren't taking anything for granted, and Butler, in many ways, is the embodiment of that approach.
He competes as if every play is his last, which teammate Devin McCourty says probably is a result of his underdog career path. Butler has now put together back-to-back seasons as the team's No. 1 corner, during which he has played an eye-opening 2,090 of 2,137 defensive snaps (97.8 percent).
"No matter who I'm up against, I'm ready to play," he said.
And the Texans are prepared for his best.
"He's a very unique player. We all have a lot of respect for him," O'Brien said. "He's very, very difficult to go against because he's smart. He's got great playing strength. He has very strong hands. He's got a very strong way of playing the game."
Butler's strength extends beyond the field, and that's what has impressed teammates like McCourty.
"He's obviously had great success so far in his career, but it hasn't changed him. He has the same attitude," McCourty said. "For me being a little older, it's been great watching his growth and watching him get better day-in and day-out. Coming off a [rookie] season where he didn't do much, then he goes out and makes a great catch to win the Super Bowl. After that, he's just gotten better and better and he's played against better players. We put him in tough situations a lot and he comes out and shows that he likes that and proves he can do it."
Butler, who is one of football's best financial bargains at a $600,000 base salary, will be a restricted free agent after the season. It would be a surprise if the Patriots don't tender him at the first-round level, assuming the sides don't strike a longer-term extension before that.
Those business-based decisions will come in time, but for now, it's all football and Bill Belichick has nothing but praise.
"Malcolm competes very hard, he's got a great attitude and gives great effort on the football field no matter what the situation is," he said. "He's durable, he's tough, he loves to play, loves to compete. It doesn't matter who it's against. You can put him up there in any situation and he's going to compete and he's going to have fun doing it."