INDIANAPOLIS — Jonas Gray appreciates every carry, every yard and every snap he receives with the New England Patriots.
Gray, who carried the ball 37 times for 199 yards and a Patriots-record four touchdowns in their 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts, is a first-year player, but he’s not just some rookie who will take his sudden success for granted.
Gray tore his ACL during his senior season with Notre Dame in 2011, spent all of the 2012 season on the PUP list with the Miami Dolphins, sat on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad for the 2013 season and then signed a lowly futures contract with the Patriots in January.
His chances of cracking the 53-man roster entering training camp were slim to none, and they proved to be just that when he was released Aug. 30 despite an impressive preseason with the Patriots. Gray then worked to gain the confidence of his coaches and fellow players after being added to the practice squad, and that perseverance paid off when starting running back Stevan Ridley’s season ended after a severe knee injury.
“A lot of it has to do with patience,” Gray said after the Patriots win. “I look at it like, when I was on the practice squad, that I was working on my craft, that I was getting better every day going against the starters. Pretty much being a full-contact guy every day. That helped me. Also the leadership. It starts with the guys that — being here for a long time, they have a way of doing things that are consistent, and I just followed their lead.”
Gray has since picked up where Ridley left off and had the game of his life in the Patriots win over the Colts. Gray was so good, he made Patriots fans wish that Tom Brady (Tom Brady!) would stop throwing the ball so that the running back could keep pounding through the Colts’ defensive line.
“Jonas Gray was finding yards, whether it was cutting back or staying with his blocks,” Brady said at Lucas Oil Stadium. “He just had great vision tonight. He ran for almost 200 yards, so it was a pretty sweet night for a running back to be able to do that.”
Brady’s first two quarters were downright dismal, and Gray’s 14-rush, 100-yard, two-touchdown half carried the Patriots to a 14-3 lead. Gray was just as effective at closing out the game, turning in his best “Clock Killin'” Corey Dillon impression, as the Patriots won the time of possession battle 34:21 to 25:39.
Gray had an idea the Patriots were going to rely on him coming into the game. The Colts were allowing just 98.1 yards per game coming into Week 11, but their 4.4 yards allowed per carry was 25th in the NFL.
“I had an indication all week that I was going to be a big part of the game plan,” Gray said. “Getting back to the run game was going to be a big emphasis.
“It’s kinda funny because on Saturday, I remember walking into the building, and Mr. (Robert) Kraft pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re going to have a big game this week, so be ready.’ Just hearing that from the owner, just hearing that from the head coach and from the leaders on the team definitely gives you a positive outlook, and definitely gives you the mindset to do your best.”
So where does Gray go from here? The 5-foot-10, 225-pound 24-year-old running back might be looking at a loss of sleep.
“I’m one of those guys, I’ll probably get back tonight around 4 a.m. and just lay in bed, look up at the ceiling and just be just astonished at what’s going on,” Gray said. “Just writing a great story, man.”
Photo via AJ Mast/Associated Press