The New England Patriots defense has been performing much better, in recent weeks, than they have since the start of the season. A glaring exception to that rule appears to be emerging, though. On Sunday night, former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was repeatedly torched in the first half by a passing game he was expected to handle. The timing couldn't have been worse for him on a personal level, even though his team was able to overcome the Denver Broncos for another victory.

Patriots cornerback embarrassed

Throughout the first half, Emmanuel Sanders lined up across from Butler with Patriots on defense.

Sanders is no slouch, but it should have been a winnable battle for the cornerback. It was clear right away, however, that Sunday's game would not be following that script. It took almost no time for Sanders to burn Butler, and he did it again and again, surpassing 100 yards receiving in the blink of an eye before the halftime cannon could even sound.

Things didn't get much better in the second half. Just when it seemed as if things had settled down, Butler committed a defensive holding penalty that would've cost his team if it weren't for the fact that the Broncos scored on the drive anyways.

At the end of the night, the Broncos were absolutely humiliated by the Patriots with multiple touchdowns. But there was at least one member of New England's squad who likely walked away from the game more unhappy than he should've been.

Butler collapsing at the worst time

Just a couple of days ago, Butler disavowed his early-season struggles, claiming that has "back" when speaking to the Boston Herald.

He recorded four pass breakups and an interception in the last four games, so there was at least some statistical basis to back up his comments. Now, he's going to have to explain to the Patriots why his brash bravado turned into a humble pie in a matter of days, not weeks.

Butler became a household name when he made the game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

The following season, he went to his first Pro Bowl. The Patriots almost sent the restricted free agent to the New Orleans Saints in a trade over the Spring but ended up keeping him for just under 4 million for the season. He was expected to command a heavy payday when he hits free agency this Spring, but he is playing himself out of a lucrative contract.

The only thing Butler may be able to hang his head on at the end of the season is another Super Bowl Trophy.