A definitive starting quarterback has yet to be announced for the Patriots' Thursday night game against the Steelers, but there is an assumption that Malik Cunningham will indeed take the field this week, even if it's in a limited capacity.
Although Bill Belichick hasn't stated it yet, Bailey Zappe is presumed to remain the QB1 this week, with Cunningham serving as the backup and Mac Jones as the emergency go-to guy in case everything goes awry.
That seemed like the plan against the Chargers this past Sunday, but Cunningham was not given an opportunity to see if he could be more successful with the offense. Given Zappe's apparent struggles and inability to get into the red zone, it was an odd decision. So, it would be ideal if a plan involved the dynamic rookie in some capacity against a formidable Pittsburgh defense.
Fortunately, that's allegedly the plan, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, who revealed the Steelers are preparing for all three quarterbacks no matter who ends up getting the start. He also noted that the Patriots have been working on some plays to involve Cunningham this week and that he's had a good week in practice leading up to the game.
"The Steelers are loosely planning to face quarterback Bailey Zappe on Thursday night vs. the Patriots. But they are also looking into Mac Jones and Malik Cunningham, just in case. The Patriots didn’t get Cunningham involved last week but have been working on potential packages for him. He has thrown the ball relatively well in practices. What’s clear is what’s not clear in New England: They need a real solution at the position."
Because New England has nothing to lose, what would be the problem with throwing Cunningham in for a few drives? Crossing all ten fingers and toes in hopes that magic will further boost their minuscule chance of making the playoffs doesn't seem reasonable anymore. So, looking at how an intriguing player like this young quarterback can do makes more sense now than it would have a handful of weeks ago.
Perhaps Belichick will realize it was a mistake not to give him a chance against the Chargers. Or maybe they really are all-in on tanking the rest of the season to increase their chances at the first overall pick in the 2024 draft.
We'll never know the truth, but most Patriots fans still want to see Cunningham under center in at least one game over the last five games, so why not do that in this game?