Again at quarterback, Malik Cunningham brings a spark to Patriots’ sluggish offense


“They didn’t know if we have been gonna go or run. In order that was fairly enjoyable.”

New England Patriots quarterback Malik Cunningham (16) dashes toward the end zone for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass.
Malik Cunningham led the Patriots on a 14-play landing drive. AP Photograph/Michael Dwyer

FOXBOROUGH — Malik Cunningham shouldn’t be one to indicate any lack in confidence out on the sphere.

The 24-year-old rookie is already embracing the problem of attempting to carve out an NFL roster spot as a large receiver, regardless of crafting a lauded collegiate profession at Louisville as a dual-threat quarterback.

However the former Cardinal will not be so fast to commerce in his QB wrist coach for receiver gloves.

Within the closing minutes of New England’s preseason-opening loss to the Texans, Cunningham was handed the keys to the listless Patriots’ offense searching for any semblance of a spark.

And as anticipated, Cunningham confirmed little when it comes to nerves in what stood as his first NFL reps below heart.

“We had no touchdowns,” Cunningham stated of the state of the staff within the closing minutes of the fourth. “So I instructed the O-line, the entire group, that we have been going to go down to attain.”

Cunningham backed up his lofty phrases out on the gridiron, serving as one of many few brilliant spots on offense in New England’s 20-9 loss at Gillette Stadium.

“That’s his alternative,” Invoice Belichick stated of Cunningham. “And he’s achieved a great job with it. He’s embraced it. He’s labored onerous, he’s improved quite a bit as a receiver. The snaps he’s had at quarterback in observe and tonight — he’s achieved a reasonably good job.”

Considerations over Cunningham’s passing mechanics and arm power led to him falling out of draft consideration in 2023. However his athleticism painted the image of an explosive participant on the NFL stage if molded into the right function — prompting New England to hand him the most money ever guaranteed to an undrafted free agent. 

That expertise was on show on Thursday, with Cunningham serving to to orchestrate a 14-play, 75-yard drive that resulted within the staff’s lone landing of the night.

“It felt good. I imply, at occasions they have been bringing a variety of stress,” Cunningham stated of the Texans. “They’d a great protection, had a great scheme. So I simply felt like my working means gave us somewhat extra choices on offense to open it up. They didn’t know if we have been gonna go or run. In order that was fairly enjoyable.”

With Invoice O’Brien cooking up extra read-option performs in New England’s offense, Cunningham often made Houston pay along with his legs. He completed with 34 speeding yards on 5 makes an attempt.

By means of the air, Cunningham linked on three of his 4 passing makes an attempt for 19 yards. His lone incompletion was a results of a dropped ball by wideout Tre Nixon, spoiling what would have been a formidable red-zone throw by Cunningham for six factors.

Cunningham, who earlier remained within the recreation despite getting his helmet ripped clean off by Houston CB Cobi Francis, was undeterred.

Only a few performs after the incompletion, Cunningham lined up within the shotgun. It didn’t take lengthy after receiving the snap that the fleet-footed QB noticed his alternative.

“We had a go play referred to as … it parted just like the Pink Sea to go up the center,” Cunningham stated with a smile. “I noticed the objective [line] and I’m like, ‘I gotta get in there.’”

Because the opening emerged within the offensive line, Cunningham took off — juking linebacker Jake Hansen out of his cleats earlier than diving into the top zone for the landing.

On an evening the place the Patriots gained simply 164 internet yards of offense, Cunningham’s lone drive accounted for almost half of it.

“We would like what’s finest for the staff. We wish to win, irrespective of who’s on the market,” Bailey Zappe stated of Cunningham and New England’s four-man quarterback room. “Malik got here in and did an exceptional job — had a extremely good drive, scored the one landing of the sport.

“Did actually good in each the run recreation and the go recreation and t was very nice to see him try this. Particularly his first recreation within the NFL, to have the ability to go on the market and sort of put the jitters apart and play like he did was actually good to see.”

With precisely a month till New England’s season opener at Gillette, Cunningham nonetheless has an uphill climb in entrance of him in terms of making the 53-man roster.

If Cunningham desires to observe in Julian Edelman’s footsteps on the receiver place, he might want to leapfrog different names like Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton, and others.

The problem isn’t any simpler in terms of attempting to supplant the primary two QBs on New England’s depth chart.

And over the following month, Cunningham has to state his case on the sphere at BOTH positions.

Would possibly look like far an excessive amount of of a workload, particularly for a rookie?

“Nah. I’m a reasonably intelligent, good child,” Cunningham stated of studying the ropes at receiver and quarterback within the NFL.