BOSTON (CBS) — After some impressive runs during the preseason, Jonas Gray still found his way to the New England Patriots practice squad. But he didn’t let that get him down and continued to work hard every day, not taking a single snap against the Patriots’ first teamers for granted.
All of that hard work paid off for Gray and the Patriots on Sunday night, as the rookie ran for 199 yards and a franchise-record four touchdowns in New England’s 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Gray had a feeling he was in for a heavy workload following a quick chat with Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Saturday.
“We knew that getting back to the run game would be a big emphasis. It’s kind of funny because on Saturday, I remember walking into the building and Mr. Kraft pulled me aside and said, ‘you’re going to have a big week, so be ready,’” Gray recalled after the game. “Hearing that from the owner, your head coach and the leaders of the team, it definitely gives you a positive outlook and the mindset to go out and do your best.
“A lot of it has to do with patience,” he said of his success on Sunday. “I look at it, when I was on the practice squad I was working on my craft and getting better every day. Going against the starters, I was pretty much being a full contact guy every day. So that helped me, and also the leadership; guys who have been here for a long time and have a way of doing things. I just followed their lead.”
Gray let it be known early that he would make an impact in the game, rushing for 34 yards and his first touchdown on New England’s first offensive drive. His first two runs both went for seven yards and he broke free for a 16-yard burst on his third carry of the game. The only thing that kept him from picking up more than four yards on his final rush of the drive was the end zone.
“It was definitely a tone-setter,” Gray said of his opening drive touchdown. “The guys did a good job up front. They were picking me up off the ground every play, telling me ‘good run’ and staying positive. There was a lot of communication up front and guys were doing their job.”
By halftime, the undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame had 100 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. When the game was over and the Patriots had their sixth straight win, Gray had racked up 199 rushing yards, tied for the third-most in team history. His four touchdowns set a New England regular season record, something Gray was surprised to hear after the win.
Watch: Jonas Gray’s Post-Game Interview
“That’s a pretty cool thing. I’m one of those guys where I’ll go home tonight when we get back at 4 a.m., I’ll probably just lay in bed and look up at the ceiling and just be astonished at what is going on,” he said. “I’m just writing a great story, and the guys are helping me. They’re picking me up every day and making sure I don’t ever get complacent and am working hard every day. It’s exciting.”
Gray made sure to commend his offensive line for opening up those big holes for him throughout the game.
“I never look for the home run. I just want to set the tone and run downhill, get the extra yardage and punish a defender. The guys did a good job up front moving the line of scrimmage,” he said.
Gray’s hard work has not gone unnoticed throughout the New England locker room, and Sunday night was no exception. Devin McCourty had a front row seat on the sidelines for Gray’s big game, and said it all comes from the rookie’s hard work in practice.
“He has accepted all challenges and I’m just happy for him; a guy who started on the practice squad but always knew he had the ability to be a starting running back in this league,” said McCourty. “Now he’s getting his chance, and with the way the line blocked today, that’s going to be hard to stop.”
The Patriots have needed a big runner out of the backfield since Stevan Ridley went down for the season back in Week 6. With the winter months and some cold games still ahead, Gray could provide the Patriots with the perfect back for those grind-’em-out games in December — and hopefully January.
He waited a long time for his chance, and made the most out of it when it finally came Sunday night on national TV. After running all over the Colts, Gray can count on doing a lot more than just practicing with New England’s first team from here on out.
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