Patriots’ Malcolm Butler is ready for his next defining Super Bowl moment
Malcolm Butler etched his name into Super Bowl lore two years ago by intercepting a short Russell Wilson pass at the goal line, clinching the New England Patriots’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Butler was something of a mystery man at the time, an undrafted reserve cornerback who came up big in the biggest moment of the season.
On Tuesday, Butler deflected multiple questions about himself, saying it takes a team to win games and championships.
But he acknowledged the career-defining moment.
“I am most definitely known for that play — making one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history,” he said. “It helped my career.
“That is pretty much all I can say. I got us a ring.”
Butler’s profile is much bigger heading into Super Bowl LI on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
He is expected to be charged at times with covering the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones, regarded by many as the NFL’s premier receiver.
Butler, 26, emphasized that it will take a collective effort to control Jones, who had 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season. He has scored three touchdowns in the playoffs, including one that covered 73 yards in the NFC title-game victory over the Green Bay Packers.
Butler is 5 feet 11 and 190 pounds; Jones 6-3 and 220 pounds.
“You never hear him complain about anything,” Butler said of Jones. “You never hear much about him — he comes to work, he works hard and is a great player.
“I would kind of say we are similar a little bit with our style and our appearance to the media and things like that. I respect him.”
Said Jones of the potential matchup: “I know where I’m going and he doesn’t know where I’m going, so the advantage is to me. He’s a very competitive corner and he’s got great ball skills.”
Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon said Butler, who intercepted a career-best four passes this season, has improved since his big Super Bowl play.
“He hasn’t let that one play define him,” Harmon said. “When people talk about Malcolm Butler, the first thing they might say is that interception, but after that, they’re going to say he’s consistently gotten better.”
Run for the money
Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel provide Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan with plenty of targets in a dynamic and high-flying passing attack.
But running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman enable the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to thrive.
Freeman rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns in 227 carries this season. He also was the Falcons’ third-leading receiver with 54 catches, two for touchdowns.
Coleman rushed for 520 yards and eight touchdowns in 118 carries.
“I remember last season when I was taking all the pounding, I was getting all the carries,” Freeman said. “I didn’t know how important it was to have someone to come in when you’re tired or when you’re banged up or when you need an extra blow.
“To have Tevin here to come in when I get tired and stuff like that, it’s tremendous.”
It’s also, apparently, frustrating.
Freeman told NFL.com this week that he was “struggling” with frustration over sharing carries. His agent told the website “It’s time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is.”
Freeman was a fourth-round pick from Florida State in 2014. He was paid $721,000 this season, according to spotrac.com.
“I’m just excited to be here,” Freeman told reporters when asked about his agent’s comment. “Whatever they have going on, that’s the business part of it.
“I’m just excited to be here and be able to compete with my family and my brothers. I’m just enjoying the moment. This experience is just unbelievable.”
General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said Freeman’s situation would be addressed after the Super Bowl.
“We want him to be here with us,” Dimitroff said, adding, “I think we’re in a really good spot with a number of players on this team that we’re going to continue to re-up here, and Devonta’s one we’re going to have that discussion with.
“We’re confident we’re going to have him here for years to come.”
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, 42, studied aeronautical engineering in college and worked as an engineer before beginning his coaching career.
He keeps a pencil behind his ear on the sideline.
“A lot of mechanical pencils through college and all that stuff,” Patricia said. “I just found, through doing those drawings, the good old basic pencil.
“You can sharpen it really nice and just get that right deal. … It’s just one of those things where I’m saying, ‘Oh, I have to write that down.’ And I know where it is at all times.”
But why not a pen instead?
“The pencil works in all weather,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Save the date
In the wake of New England’s Matthew Slater’s admission that he had never met UCLA Coach Jim Mora, even though Slater played for the Bruins before becoming a six-time Pro Bowl special-teams star, the UCLA program has reached out.
Bruins officials say they attempted to see whether Slater could serve as an honorary captain at one of their home games this season, but the Bruins and Patriots schedules conflicted, so they will again try to honor Slater next season at the Rose Bowl if the schedules permit.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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