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Pats Owner Kraft Breaks Silence, Defends Belichick’s Decision to Bench Star in Super Bowl

AP Gregory Payan
AP Photo/Gregory Payan
Orlando, FL

It was one of the most bizarre personnel decisions in Super Bowl history, and it probably contributed to New England losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the last Super Bowl.

We are talking about Patriots coach Bill Belichick benching starting CB Malcolm Butler against Philadelphia for some unknown reason. The Patriots’ pass defense, sans Butler, was horrid, getting torn part by a backup QB Nick Foles, in a 41-33 win.

There are rumors that Butler missed curfew during the week. Also that Butler was sick at the beginning of the week. Whatever the reason, Belichick refuses to explain his decision.

On Monday, at the NFL Owner’s Meeting in Orlando, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft addressed the Butler benching for the first time. He stands by Belichick’s decision, and drew an analogy to how he handles managers at his successful corporation, The Kraft Group.

“Here’s the deal,” Kraft said in a courtyard at Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the site of the meetings. “We in New England are privileged to have arguably have the great coach in the history of coaching. We are involved in a number of businesses in our family. We are in 95 countries in the world. We try to encourage to have good managers. We want them to take risks and sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. But I have faith in Bill as a coach.”

Kraft feels Belichick is a football genius, so he refuses to second-guess him.

“I don’t think there is anyone who has the football knowledge and expertise along with understanding personnel,” Kraft said. “No one can merge those two worlds (like Belichick), and he’s done pretty well for us the last 18 years. As a fan, I can question some of the moves. As someone who is privileged to be the owner of this team, I encourage him to keep going with instincts and doing what he thinks is right. There is no doubt in my mind, that even if he made an error, and this is true with any of our managers, if you are doing it for the right reason, I support it 100 percent. And I’ve never had one instance, in the 18 years, where Bill hasn’t done what he believes is in the best interest of our team and help us to win games.”

Kraft will always have fond memories of Butler, now with Tennessee, whose goal-line interception iced the Patriots win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX.

“I had hoped he’d be a Patriots for all his days,” Kraft said. “His play at the end of the Seattle Super Bowl was iconic. He’s such a humble, nice young man. He was making, what eight and half bucks a hour at Popeyes, and seven months later, he was making the biggest play in the history of Super Bowls, in my opinion. He’s a great guy. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for him with us and I’m happy he got the contract he got. I wish him well and I’ll miss him.”

And his team probably missed him in the Super Bowl.

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