Bill Belichick has put opposing coaches in a trance for the better part of four decades, paralyzing them with his genius, but the Dark Lord of football’s Evil Empire finally met a formidable foil that cost him the biggest prize of them all: Bill Belichick.

Belichick out-smarted himself with his unorthodox decision to bench cornerback Malcolm Butler that cost the Patriots a sixth Super Bowl title.

The Hoodie typically outwits, out-coaches and outlasts opponents with frightening precision, but his curious choice to sit the guy who had played more defensive snaps than anyone on his roster this season (97.8 percent, in case you were wondering) loomed large in New England’s 41-33 loss to the Eagles on Sunday night.

It seemingly made absolutely no sense, fueling speculation about the real reason for Butler’s benching. Belichick maintained that the nobody-turned-Super Bowl hero three years ago was not marginalized for disciplinary reasons.

“I respect Malcolm’s competitiveness and I am sure that he felt like he could have helped,” Belichick said Monday after Philly carved up the Patriots for 373 passing yards and four touchdowns. “I am sure other players felt the same way, but in the end, we have to make the decisions that we feel are best for the football team and that is what we did … that is what I did. That’s really all I can say about it.”

Something smells rotten in Denmark … or at least in Foxborough. Belichick, frankly, is too smart to make such an incredibly stupid decision. The 11th-hour decision – Butler was in tears during the national anthem upon finding out just before kickoff that he would only be playing special teams – had a ripple effect. Patriots defenders had to adjust (physically and mentally) to playing without a reliable and consistent presence in the secondary without much notice.

If Belichick actually believed that sitting Butler for Eric Rowe, Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards would enhance his team’s chances of winning Super Bowl LII, he surely would have adjusted once it became apparent early on that Nick Foles was carving up his secondary.

Belichick is regarded as the Grand Master of halftime adjustments. Are we supposed to believe that the greatest football coach in the history of the universe didn’t think it was a good idea to insert Butler at the start of the third quarter after the Patriots’ defense had given up 323 first-half yards and nine yards per play? Nine!

Surely, Belichick didn’t suffer from a massive brain cramp on the biggest stage. He doesn’t freeze when it’s gut-check time. He excels.

Remember, this is a man who pulled veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington for an unknown undrafted rookie named Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl XLIX. Butler made play after play in that game before making the most important play to seal a championship.

Belichick’s past unorthodox moves like using wide receivers Julian Edelman and Troy Brown as defensive backs could always be justified as genius from a prescient mad scientist, but benching Butler was different. This wasn’t genius. From a purely football perspective, it was a bone-headed call, which beckons the question: What was the actual reason behind a decision that clearly made the Patriots worse on the field?

“They gave up on me. (Expletive). It is what it is,” Butler told ESPN. “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.”

On the surface, there’s no logic behind it. Belichick reiterated his talking points when pressed on a Monday conference call about how he felt not giving Butler any defensive snaps gave the Patriots the best chance to win.

“I appreciate the question, but it would be a much longer discussion,” Belichick said. “There are a lot of things that go into that. In the end, the final decision is what I said it was.”

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower took a passive-aggressive jab at his head coach by liking a critical Instagram post from former teammate Brandon Browner, who wrote this under a caption of Belichick after the Super Bowl: “Lost the game for us tonight. Stupid decision and makes no sense. You make the decision to give us the best chance to win. But u don’t play your best cornerback.”

“A locker room was divided pre game,” Browner wrote in a second post.

Browner posted another Instagram message Monday suggesting that Butler was caught with marijuana at some point before the big game and violated team curfew.

Butler, a former Pro Bowler (2015) and second-team All-Pro (2016), will be moving on in free agency next month. He started his Patriots career with a life-changing, Super Bowl-winning interception. He ended it in tears.

There is always a method to Belichick’s madness. The leader of the Dark Side must have had a good reason for this ill-fated decision. Benching Butler cost the Patriots another ring.

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