INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the lingering questions surrounding the New England Patriots entering Sunday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts was their running game. Did they have a big, powerful back they could rely on?
Consider it answered.
They do, and they knew it all along. Now the entire NFL knows it after under-the-radar Jonas Gray turned in a rock 'em, sock 'em effort -- 38 carries for 199 yards and four touchdowns -- as the Patriots steamrolled the Colts 42-20 with a dominant power run game.
For a player who spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad and entered the NFL in 2012 as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins coming off a torn ACL sustained at Notre Dame, it has never been better than this.
"I'll probably go home tonight, when we get back around 4 a.m., and just lay in bed, look up at the ceiling and just be astonished at what's going on," Gray said in a joyous locker room. "Just writing a great story."
There was a great story behind the great story in this case, and it came when Gray arrived at the team's facility Saturday, the day before the game.
"I remember walking into the building and 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, just hearing that from the head coach, hearing that from the leaders of the team definitely gives you a positive outlook and definitely gives you the mindset to go out and do your best."
Gray was charted on the field for a career-high 53 snaps (not including kneel-downs) Sunday night, and the Patriots' focus on power running was clear from the start when they churned out 77 rushing yards on their opening drive.
Gray agreed that was a tone-setter, and a big part of the plan was having rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming on the field as a tight end/sixth offensive lineman -- his 6-foot-6, 325-pound frame contributing to the beatdown the Patriots delivered. Fleming played 37 snaps in that role, which was similar to how the Patriots attacked the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2.
Of course, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Gray was nowhere to be found in that 30-7 win against the Vikings. After spending 2012 with the Dolphins rehabbing his knee, and then 2013 on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad, he landed on the Patriots' practice squad early this season. It almost didn't turn out that way, though, with coach Bill Belichick admitting that Gray was a serious consideration to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp.
"We talked about that long and hard," Belichick said. "We really talked about bringing him up on the roster several weeks before we did [Oct. 16]. I had several conversations with him in previous weeks, telling him, ‘You're close. We want to try to get you on the roster but right now we've had a couple other issues we've had to deal with.' I think we all felt as a coaching staff that he would be playing for us at some point this year at that final cut. Obviously we didn't want to expose him, but we did what we thought was best."
When top big back Stevan Ridley sustained a season-ending torn ACL on Oct. 12 against the Bills, the door finally swung open for Gray. He plowed through it, just as he did the sizable holes created by Patriots' offensive linemen, tight ends and fullbacks Sunday night.
This was power football at its best -- a black-and-blue performance with shades of Gray.
"He's just a no-nonsense, downhill, tough runner," remarked fullback James Develin. "He lowers his pads, makes his one cut and -- boom! -- he's downhill."
Added Gray: "I never look for the home run a whole lot. I kind of want to set the tone and run downhill and kind of get the extra yardage and punish the defender."
Gray joined Barry Sanders, Doug Martin and Mike Anderson as the only running backs in the past 50 years to run for more than 180 yards and score four touchdowns on the road, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. It just so happens that Sanders was Gray's favorite player growing up in Detroit. Now he finds himself in Sanders' company and entrenched as the Patriots' workhorse running back.
"It's a sweet feeling," a smiling Gray said. "I'm blessed. I got the opportunity, and I'm going to keep doing what I can with it."