By Gregory Hunt
Thanks to an impressive performance at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night in a 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray has become a bit of a celebrity. The 24-year-old Notre Dame product is now on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated after rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts in only his fourth career NFL game.
According to Gray, Patriots owner Robert Kraft predicted that Gray was ready for a breakout performance. “On Saturday, Mr. Kraft pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re going to have a big game this week, so be ready,'” Gray said. “Just hearing that from the owner and hearing that from the head coach, hearing that from the leader of the team, definitely gives you a positive outlook and definitely gives you the mindset to go out and do your best.”
Gray started the season on the Patriots practice squad after brief stints with the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. He didn’t see any game action for either of his previous NFL teams, rehabbing an injury at Miami and spending time on the scout team at Baltimore. He was also on the scout team for New England, but was promoted to the active roster after starting running back Stevan Ridley was placed on the IR list with a knee injury. Stevan is scheduled to undergo surgery for his knee Tuesday.
At 5′ 10″, 230 lbs., Gray is tough to tackle. He’s the type of back that likes to dish out hits instead of avoiding them, and he is adept at gaining extra yards thanks to his powerful, ever-churning legs. He has the potential to become the impact running back that New England hasn’t had on its roster since Corey Dillon set franchise records in 2004 with 1,635 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
In an interesting coincidence, former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who also appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated after a 166-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 43-22 playoff win against the Colts last season, was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday. He signed with the Steelers as a free agent during the off-season, but he walked off the field at LP Field Monday night prior to the end of a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans. The team announced his release on Twitter the following afternoon.
Like Gray, Blount is a bruising back at 6′ 0″, 250 lbs., but he was not able to sustain the brief postseason success he showed with the Patriots. In last season’s AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos, Blount gained only six yards on five carries and didn’t touch the ball in the second half. New England lost that game 26-16. Blount and Gray are now the only two players in Patriots history to rush for four touchdowns in a single game, either in the regular season or in the playoffs.
New England’s upcoming game against the Detroit Lions will present a special challenge for Gray — the Lions are currently first in the league in both rushing defense (68.8 YPG) and total defense (290.3). The Patriots play the Lions Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
For more Patriots news and updates, visit Patriots Central.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.