FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Matt Mulligan is painfully aware that in the National Football League, everything can change at any moment.
On Aug. 31, he was released by the Green Bay Packers, then signed with New England on Sept. 3 — only to be cut by the Patriots two days later. Mulligan then re-signed with the team on Sept. 10.
The former University of Maine standout from Enfield is among four tight ends on the New England roster. His job security may rest on the health status of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is working his way back into playing shape after recovering from offseason arm and back surgeries but has not played in a game this season.
With Gronkowski’s return looming, presumably in the near future, Mulligan is determined to make the best of his opportunity to stick with the team.
“I really just try to approach every day as a new day, try to get better at what I can get better at,” Mulligan said. “In this line of work, it could be gone tomorrow.”
Despite any uncertainty, Mulligan said he enjoys a sense of calm that is the result of his faith in God.
“For me, it’s believing that the Lord has a plan for me,” he said. “At the same time, I have to take care of what I can take care of. It has been a difficult year thus far, for sure, but it’s a blessing to be able to play day by day.”
Mulligan, his wife, Stephanie, and their nearly 6-month-old daughter, Clara, are living at an extended-stay hotel in the Foxborough area.
“Coming here was such a quick turnaround. I know that everything can change in an instant,” he said.
The 6-foot-4, 267-pound Mulligan has served primarily as a blocking tight end in limited action with the Patriots. It is the same role he filled with the New York Jets from 2009-2011, and again last season with St. Louis.
Sunday night, he enjoyed another career highlight when he caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady in New England’s 30-23 victory at Atlanta. It was his second TD reception as a pro.
“I can talk about Tom [Brady] making a throw, which is awesome, and me making a catch, but it takes 11 guys or we’re not able to make that play,” he said.
Mulligan was quick to point out that his family and friends, especially those in Maine, have been tremendously supportive, regardless of how he plays.
“It’s been a blessing, the whole thing, just to be up in the New England area and playing for the Pats,” he said.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is noted for being a man of few words when speaking with members of the media. He nonetheless offered some praise for Mulligan during a recent press conference.
“He’s a tough kid, smart,” Belichick said. “He came in here and picked things up and learned them pretty quickly.”
Belichick pointed out that Mulligan has been recognized for his NFL experience and his approach to the game.
“He hasn’t had a great deal of playing time but has been solid with the playing time that he has had,” Belichick said. “That’s the type of thing that will lead to more opportunity. He’s a hardworking guy that does his job, knows what his role is, works hard to do it.”
The way Mulligan looks at it, his career thus far has been largely unexpected.
He played basketball, soccer and tennis at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland, which does not sponsor a football team. Mulligan was introduced to the game during his two years at Husson University in Bangor, then learned his craft after transferring to the University of Maine.
Mulligan has enjoyed his brief time with New England, an organization which he said effectively lays out its expectations of each and every player on the team.
“It’s my job. I have to be able to form and shape myself into what they want me to be,” he said.
Mulligan had high praise for Brady in his limited dealings with the future Hall of Fame quarterback, specifically in regard to his businesslike approach.
“If you could pick someone to lead your organization or your football team, you’d want someone like Tom,” he said. “You can rely on him to do the best thing for the team.”
Mulligan readily admits football is a grind, not only physically but psychologically. The latter aspect is critical.
“I really feel like this game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical; can you last with the mental strain that you endure playing this game?” he said.
Having been with six NFL organizations, Mulligan is proud of his status as a journeyman.
“To be able to have that said about me as a player is a compliment, because it means I’ve stuck around and teams want you,” he said.
Mulligan said he approaches each day with enthusiasm, hard work and a great appreciation for having the opportunity to play in the NFL. Ultimately, it is his faith that keeps him grounded on the good days as well as the difficult ones.
“As you grow older, you have to realize what you want out of life and what your purpose is,” said Mulligan, who is a member of the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Lincoln.
“There’s a stability in having faith in the Lord that I cherish, and I couldn’t do without it,” he added, saying former UMaine and Jets teammate Mike DeVito and, more recently, Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater, have helped him continued to deepen his faith.
“I love football and I want to be able to play it for many more years, but football does not define who I am as a man,” said Mulligan, who is inspired by Stephanie’s love and support and also added, “I have my faith in the Lord, my parents and my friends.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story requires correction. The Patriots beat the Falcons 30-23 Sunday, not 28-21.