FOXBORO -- When the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers took the field for their first of two joint practice sessions Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium, there were a number of players missing. Though most absences - such as defensive back Joejuan Williams' season-ending shoulder injury - were documented, one notable player's no-show was a mystery:
Cornerback Malcolm Butler.
Patriots Country can report that the Super Bowl hero is nursing a lower-body injury that required him to use crutches as he arrived at the team's facility in the afternoon. Butler was not on hand for the fight-filled practice session with the Panthers in the morning - and in the afternoon, the club officially moved him to IR.
Crutches are generally not used as a precautionary measure, and tend to be indicative of a lower-extremity injury that requires reduced weight. New England on Sunday signed undrafted defensive back Devin Hafford, likely in preparation for losing Williams for the season and Butler for perhaps an extended time.
Butler has missed the last two practices, with no explanation provided by head coach Bill Belichick.
The former Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals cornerback signed a two-year deal with New England last spring. After struggling during the initial stages of training camp, he seemingly was improving in recent practices.
Butler saw a significantly higher number of snaps in the team's first preseason game against the New York Giants than expected, with 23 plays. He recorded a pass breakup, fumble recovery and one tackle.
A combination of his high preseason snap count and presence on the second-team defense led to rumors about Butler being a candidate to be released prior to Tuesday's roster cutdown. The rumblings were exacerbated by his unexplained absences from the team's last two workouts.
Butler, of course, made one of the most memorable plays in Patriots history in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. He intercepted Russell Wilson's pass near the goal line, keeping Seattle out of the end and preserving New England's 28-24 win and fifth championship.