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Paul's Calls: Cunningham suspended

Jermaine Cunningham has been suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances. His suspension begins immediately and he will be eligible to return to the team Dec. 24 and play in the final regular-season game against Miami Dec. 30.

Bradley Fletcher

Cunningham's absence, coupled with the ankle injury for Chandler Jones, leaves the Patriots a bit thin at defensive end. Jones missed the Thanksgiving night win over the Jets and his availability for Sunday's game in Miami is in question, although more will be known when the team begins practicing later this week.

Rob Ninkovich has been solid as one starter and if Jones can't go on Sunday it would leave Bill Belichick with some options. He could turn to Trevor Scott, who has seen more playing time recently after a slow start to the season. Rookie Justin Francis appeared to be making strides as a situational pass rusher and perhaps could factor into a larger role. Fellow rookie Jake Bequette hasn't had many opportunities and has been inactive in nine of 11 games. Perhaps Belichick will continue to tinker with the lineup and use more three-man fronts, which have been a bit more prevalent in recent weeks.

In any regard, Cunningham had been providing some solid play recently. He was initially used this season as a sub rusher on the inside and had some success in that role. When Jones went down he got more reps on the outside opposite Ninkovich and for the most seemed to hold up OK. He made an excellent read on a wide receiver screen to Jeremy Kerley last Thursday night and prevented a first down early in the second half. Now the Patriots will have to find some depth elsewhere.

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