The Patriots are continuing to take a secretive approach to their backup quarterback situation.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked Monday morning on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” whether undrafted rookie quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham would continue to back up starting QB Mac Jones in Week 7 against the Bills.
“Yeah, we’ll deal with next week next week,” Bill Belichick said. “Just finished the game here. Make our decisions on next week at another point in time, not right this minute.”
Cunningham, who was signed off of the practice squad Saturday, was the only other quarterback on the team’s gameday roster Sunday. Bailey Zappe was inactive as the team’s emergency third QB and Will Grier was inactive. Zappe could have only entered Sunday’s game if Jones and Cunningham suffered injuries.
Cunningham lined up at wide receiver, not quarterback, during pregame warmups. He said after the game that he loosened up his arm in the halls of Allegiant Stadium, not on the field, because the team wanted to keep it as “low-key as possible.”
Belichick was asked on a video conference call whether Cunningham, who played quarterback, wide receiver and special teams in practice last week, would receive more quarterback reps in anticipation for Week 7.
“We just got through the game here,” Belichick said. “Talk about next week’s game plan and all that, it’s not even close to that.”
Cunningham played six snaps, three at quarterback and three at wide receiver, in Sunday’s 21-17 loss to the Raiders. He was sacked on his only passing attempt when the Patriots ran an option pass.
“Malik’s improved a lot during the course of the year, both at receiver and in the kicking game and some of the snaps that he’s taken at quarterback,” Belichick said. “We didn’t really get too much of a chance to see him (Sunday). It was a tough situation. They made a good call and hit us on a perimeter blitz there (on his sack). But he’s been good to work with, he’s made a lot of improvement, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Belichick seemed to imply that the decision to sign Cunningham to the 53-man roster and make him the Patriots’ backup was tied to injuries.
“We had a lot of guys that were hurt,” Belichick said after the game.
Two Patriots wide receivers were out with concussions.
It is, of course, important to know who the Patriots’ backup quarterback will be because of Jones’ struggles this season. Jones played better on Sunday and wasn’t benched mid-game for the first time since Week 3. But he still went just 24-of-33 for 200 yards with an interception and another near-pick. The game ended with Jones taking a last-minute safety on third-and-15 from the Patriots’ own 4-yard line.
If the score had gotten out of hand in Sunday’s game — as it did when Jones was pulled in Weeks 4 and 5 for Zapppe — or if Jones had been benched for performance, then Cunningham would have had to enter the game at quarterback.
And if Jones’ struggles continue deep into the season, then it would be worth giving another quarterback a chance. Zappe struggled so much this summer that he was waived out of training camp. He hasn’t played well in mop-up duty. Grier joined the team prior to Week 3 and doesn’t know the offense as well as Zappe. Cunningham, based on Week 7, would seemingly be the top option.
Belichick was asked if the Patriots would use Cunningham as a quarterback or continue to move him around to different positions in the future.
“Yeah, we’ll continue to evaluate that going forward,” Belichick said.
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