The New England Patriots have delivered a quarterback change ahead of their Thursday Night Football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium.
Bailey Zappe is currently in place to remain at QB1. However, preseason star Malik Cunningham has now positioned himself to become available as well.
Malik Cunningham Elevated Ahead of Steelers Game
Per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Thursday, Cunningham has been given a new roster promotion before the 2-10 Patriots take on the Steelers on the road.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 7, 2023
With this move, former starter and top-20 pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, Mac Jones, continues to fall on the depth chart. However, Cunningham — the Louisville Cardinals star — has had his name mentioned before as a potential roster refresh.
Cunningham’s rise up the depth chart first arrived amid an Oct. 12 report from Greg Bedard of The Boston Sports Journal. That report stated Will Grier would be the guy if Jones is yanked, but Cunningham would also be in play.
“From talking to people around the team, I think if Mac Jones doesn’t succeed this week, if he doesn’t retain his job, I think it’s Will Grier’s,” Bedard said during his appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub Boston.
Then, Rapoport gave intel before the matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders that Jones would be on a “short leash” for that game as he’s dealt with consistency issues.
“New England Patriots coaches have stood by starting quarterback Mac Jones, supporting him despite his struggles on the field the past two weeks. With a rough start today against the Raiders, however, that could change,” Rapoport wrote.
Now, Cunningham appears to be in a new position to take over if the Pats need an offensive spark against the Steelers.
Cunningham Became Preseason Star and Early Fan Favorite
ESPN NFL reporter Mike Reiss captured this first for the former UL dual-threat: Cunningham pulling into Allegiant Stadium as an active roster participant ahead of his first NFL contest in Sin City.
QB/WR Malik Cunningham arrives for his first career NFL regular-season game. pic.twitter.com/6PlD2IU8NG
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 15, 2023
New England, meanwhile, confirmed that Cunningham was the official backup before the contest. Now, for the struggling Patriots, it means possibly pivoting back to the rookie who won over fans this past August with his flair for explosive plays.
He showed off his big-play ability against the Houston Texans, including calling his own number on this keeper.
Played WR in the first half. QB in the second half.
— NFL (@NFL) August 11, 2023
Cunningham became one of the more dangerous running/throwing threats in college football during his time at Louisville. As a runner, Cunningham tallied 3,182 yards — including hitting 1,034 yards and scoring 20 touchdowns in 2021. He went on to score 50 rushing touchdowns.
As a passer, Cunningham threw for 9,664 yards with 70 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. Cunningham even rewrote some school records previously held by past Cardinals legends Lamar Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater.
Cunningham was originally experimented with as a wide receiver when he joined New England as an UDFA. But before Sunday’s decision, PFN’s Ian Cummings once wrote this excerpt on Cunningham:
“Cunningham could earn the QB3 spot behind Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe and make the Patriots’ roster. Not only that, but his ability as a gadget player and a WR hybrid could allow him to see the field at times in the regular season,” Cummings wrote.
“He likely won’t take too many traditional QB reps unless injuries strike, but his creation capacity is something he has that the Patriots’ other QBs lack.”
Now, the New England faithful may see him get some action in the Steel City.
Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more!