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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Butler is the No. 1 question for Patriots

August 22. 2017 12:48AM
Texans wide receiver Jaelen Strong makes a touchdown reception against Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler during Saturday's game in Houston. (USA TODAY SPORTS)

HEY PATRIOTS FANS, get used to it.

Every time Malcolm Butler has a rough game, like he did Saturday night in Houston, the talk will start. Not truly a No. 1 cornerback? What happens next?

It all will go with the territory with this guy as this season unfolds. Those of us who don’t think he’s necessarily a No. 1 will think the team made the right move by signing him to only a one-year contract for $3.91 million.

But those who think he is a No. 1 will think the Patriots messed with his head and didn’t show the proper amount of respect, giving Stephon Gilmore the money (five years, $65 million).

Either way, this will be something that will be watched throughout the 19-0 season so many people are predicting.

“Just (got to) keep grinding it out, man,” Butler said after the game. “Be (ticked) off about it and keep grinding it out ... Just got to keep getting better each and every week.”

Now, before you read too much into what Butler said, you have to know the last part of that answer is the same answer you get from every Patriot any time you talk to one of them: “Just trying to get better every day,” or “every week.” That’s the mantra in a locker room where people don’t say a whole lot.

More Butler: This from an unnamed scout talking to CSNNE’s Mike Giardi, who was asking various people for the name of the most overrated Patriot: “If you’re an elite corner in this league, you have to be able to cover all kinds of receivers. He can’t. You don’t put him on Julio Jones in the Super Bowl. He doesn’t draw A.J. Green. Sure, he has the quicks to step inside and deal with Antonio Brown, but there’s no size disadvantage. To me, that’s why you don’t pay him the money Gilmore got.”

OK, so maybe Butler is a No. 2? If Gilmore emerges, that’s fine with the team but certainly not for Butler’s wallet.

With the meaningless four-game preseason schedule half over, the Sept. 7 opener against the Chiefs cannot get here quickly enough.

Jersey boy

Tom Brady, talking to Jay Glazer of CBS Sports, on the stolen Super Bowl jersey he got back:

“I didn’t think I’d ever see it again. And then within a week I had started to hear like, ‘Oh, they may be on the right track.’ It took quite a while to kind of figure out the process and no one would really give me much information.

“I had to talk to the FBI. I had to talk to the people in the Houston Police Department and they obviously were on to it. They didn’t give me much inclination to say that they think it’s in Mexico. Before you know it, they said, ‘Well, we’ve got some good news. We recovered the jersey.’ Mr. (Robert) Kraft gave it to me at his house this summer.”

More Brady: Asked on WEEI Monday morning for his thoughts on his pal Roger Goodell about to get a contract extension, he said, “Nope, I don’t have any thoughts.”

Rex Burkhead, another of the newcomers, had a good night in Houston. Bill Belichick said the team’s interest in him goes back to college. “We had quite a bit on him,” he said. “We’ve seen quite a bit of Rex.”

Some relief

John Farrell got to use his bullpen the way he wanted to Sunday as the Red Sox completed their second straight 2-1 weekend against the Yankees.

You can quibble with the seventh-inning guy going forward, but Brandon Workman was fresh and has been effective. But the key was Addison Reed in the eighth and Craig Kimbrel in the ninth — just the way it was drawn up when Reed was acquired from the Mets.

The result was nine up and nine down and another key victory.

Going, going, gone

The home runs, many of them of the hefty variety, keep flying out of stadiums all over the big leagues.

Is the ball juiced?

After ESPN’s Buster Olney pointed out, “Seventy-five players with 20 or more homers this year. In 2014, there were 57 for the entire season.”

Justin Verlander took to Twitter, saying, “Just say it” and adding emojis of a syringe and a baseball.

Quoting a New York Daily News piece: “A total of 4,664 home runs have been hit this season, heading into Sunday, according to ESPN’s home run tracker. At a rate of 2.43 home runs per game, teams are on pace to hit 5,905 home runs — a figure that would shatter the previous season-high of 5,693 homers that came during the peak of MLB’s steroid era during the 2000-01 season.”

Earlier this season, David Price, asked by USA Today if the balls are juiced, said, “One hundred percent. We have all talked about it.”

I asked former Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett about this recently and he said, “The players aren’t juicing anymore but they juiced the ball … it can’t be something that’s just all of a sudden happening.”

Si si on CC?

CC Sabathia came off the disabled list to beat the Red Sox on Saturday, winning what gamblers call a reverse lock in his head-to-head matchup with Chris Sale. Sabathia (10-5 this season) has beaten the Red Sox three times in 2017 and allowed two runs in 20 innings in those games.

Sabathia is 233-146 with a 3.71 ERA (most of his starts in the tougher American League) lifetime. He has a Cy Young Award and is a six-time All-Star and has more American League strikeouts than any other left-hander. He was Superman as he pitched the Brewers into the playoffs after a trade deadline deal.

Is he a Hall of Famer?

“I think he deserves strong consideration,” David Cone said Sunday before working the Red Sox-Yankees game for the YES Network. “When you think about all-time lefties, from the strikeout side — missing bats is important, I think — he’s the third-best lefty of all-time. There’s Steve Carlton, there’s Randy Johnson and then there’s CC right now. He passed Mickey Lolich last night, so he deserves strong consideration. Post-season record’s good (9-5, 4.63 ERA). Big finish would help.”

And at 37, even though his Yankee contract ends after this season, he’s showing he’s not done.

“If he can finish strong here and then a couple more years … to me the 3,000-strikeout club is big (he has 2,810). He’s a year and a half away from that. A little more time and he gets to the 3,000-strikeout club. To me, that’s an elite, elite club.”

Asked if he sees the Yankees bringing Sabathia back in 2018, Cone said, “It wouldn’t surprise me. Not at all. He’s so well-liked in the clubhouse — obviously a more-favorable contract, incentive-laden, I can absolutely see that happening.”

Hoop stuff

BRAD STEVENS is confident he can talk Peyton Manning fan/Brady hater Gordon Hayward into being a Brady fan.

“I made sure that he knew that, ‘Hey, by the time you get here, I give you about four weeks before you’re a huge Tom Brady fan,’” Stevens said on NESN during the Jimmy Fund telethon. “Obviously I have been here four years, and coming from Indianapolis, there is a certain Peyton Manning lean back in the day.

“Obviously when you’re here and around the Patriots and around Tom, really that whole organization, it’s so impressive. I actually, after Gordon made his decision and moved forward, I actually sent them both a little text jabbing Gordon. He’s already reached out. Tom has been nice enough to give his advice, regardless. Tom has actually been great about it.”

From the Indianapolis Star: “Among other miscellaneous interesting nuggets, Stevens revealed that “Ms. Pac-Man,” of all things, is a staple of his game-day rituals. He said his wife, who was in attendance along with his parents and children, bought him an old ’pizza parlor machine’ a few years ago, and he has been hooked ever since.

“I play ‘Ms. Pac-Man’ for 10 to 15 games as a break between video. And then I go on my jog, and go about my daily routine, but I make sure to get my ’Ms. Pac-Man’ game in at home every single day. Ten-15 minutes (of video games) isn’t that bad. Tell your parents you’re good.’

Finally, if you missed it, the Celtics will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 Feb. 11, with the Cavaliers in town. “We teamed up with Paul from the beginning of our ownership and grew to be champions together,” said owner Wyc Grousbeck. “He’s a great person and a great Celtic.”

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is

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