Jonas Gray became the NFL’s overnight sensation. It only took three long years for him to get there.
The former Irish running back ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns last night for the Patriots. It was the first prolonged action of his NFL career after stints on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens. New England head coach Bill Belichick called Gray’s number early and often last night, giving the 230-pound 38 carries as the Patriots overwhelmed the Colts with brute force.
That performance earned Gray some well-deserved national headlines, including the A-block of Peter King‘s Monday Morning Quarterback. King caught up with Gray last night after the victory, while also talking to NBC analysts Mike Mayock and Alex Flanagan about a running back who has disappeared from the limelight since his impressive senior season at Notre Dame in 2011.
The story of Week 11 happened in Indianapolis, and it involved a player who was on the Patriots’ practice squad for the first six weeks of the season, a player any team in the NFL could have claimed and signed, for free, until the middle of October. “Obviously we didn’t want to expose him like that, but we did what we felt was best,” said coach Bill Belichick as the clock struck 12 Sunday night in Indianapolis.
The story was named Jonas Gray. The Patriots are doing what they always do—owning October and November—only this time looking like an old-fashioned power-running team. Using a sixth offensive lineman regularly, and at times using both a fullback and a blocking tight end on the same play, New England had the kind of dominant running day Woody Hayes used to put together, demolishing Indianapolis with a 244-19 edge in rushing yards.
Gray, undrafted, unloved and—at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday—unknown, had the best running day of any NFL back in the last 11 months: 38 carries, 199 yards, four touchdowns (one in each quarter). First half: 100 yards. Second half: 99 yards. Postgame: dazed.
Two things I found amazing: Gray never seemed to be winded, or tired, or showing the strain of what in today’s football is an amazing workload, especially for someone who in college or pro football had never carried this many times. And in 38 rushes, he had zero negative carries. It’s a pretty big difference in a game when it’s second-and-four or second-and-six consistently—and never second-and-12.
“When we get home,” Gray said in the New England locker room, “I’ll probably just lay in bed and look up at the ceiling and be just astonished at what’s going on. I’m just writing a great story, man.”
It’s hard not to focus on a story like Gray’s, especially after a difficult weekend at Notre Dame Stadium. And after Gray refused to let a major knee injury suffered against Boston College on Senior Day define his professional football career, his winding three-year odyssey post Notre Dame seems to have found a happy landing place in New England, where Patriots fans will certainly love their new battering ram this winter.
“I figure he’d go to a Senior Bowl, get drafted and have a nice career,” Mayock told King of Gray’s pro potential after watching his senior season. “He really broke out that year. Then he got hurt. Tore up his knee against Boston College. I had such profound sorrow for the kid.”
Do yourself a favor and read all of King’s words on Gray. It plays like a greatest hits album of the former Irish back who was the breakout star of the 2011 season… and three years later might be the same for the Patriots.
(Bonus commentary from Alex Flanagan, who reminds the world that Gray performed Standup Comedy… with Screech from Saved by the Bell.)