The New England Patriots’ current dynastic run is packed with wild anecdotes, mostly thanks to the unconventional leadership of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. “The Patriot Way” is notorious for making or breaking players, who find themselves quickly cast aside if they don’t fit into the military precision of the team’s current culture.
In the space of less than a week, former running back Jonas Gray found himself on both sides of The Patriot Way. The former Notre Dame player went undrafted. He was mostly ignored by the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens. Then, he found himself on the 2014 Patriots practice squad, barely hanging on.
That is, of course, until November 16, 2014.
The day Jonas Gray sent shockwaves through football
Up to the moment Gray set foot on the gridiron, no one — not even Gray himself — had any inkling of what was about to happen. The Patriots would match up against QB Andrew Luck and the rising force that was the 2014 Indianapolis Colts.
Powered by Brady’s brilliance and the offensive line creating opportunities seemingly out of thin air, Gray made his first big mark on the NFL in the most unbelievable way.
He was a running back that only made it on an active roster in 1.3% of fantasy football leagues. On that day, he racked up 201 yards and four touchdowns. The very next week his fantasy league appearances skyrocketed to 75.7%.
Gray was stunned. Andrew Luck, always an exemplar of sportsmanship, beelined to Gray to congratulate him on the out-of-nowhere performance. It was a special moment that even the opposing team had to take a moment to bask in.
Unfortunately for fantasy players who jumped on the Jonas Gray gravy train, the ride ended before it truly got started.
How a dead battery sent a career down the wrong track
Jonas Gray thought this was his moment. Fantasy teams everywhere scrambled to get him on their rosters, a vote of fan confidence if there ever was one. His moment had finally arrived.
Sadly, a tiny mistake took it all way. That’s all it takes to run afoul of The Patriot Way.
Gray kept his head down after his performance. He took warnings from other players and his agent seriously: don’t party, don’t act out, stick to the process. You go an inch out of line with the Patriots, things won’t go well for you. No matter how good you think you are.
The mistake Gray ultimately made was so innocuous compared to its effect on his life, it’s almost hard to believe. He didn’t plug in his phone properly. His only alarm was on his phone. It ran out of battery power overnight. Gray woke up one hour into practice time.
You do not stand up Bill Belichick. Not even five days after you put on a historic performance against a strong team during a crucial game. Belichick calmly told an apologetic Gray, “we just can’t have it.” He scratched the running back from the lineup, setting off his slow decline on the Patriots and eventually the NFL as a whole.
After putting up 201 yards in a single game, Gray only had the opportunity to rack up 97 more before he was cut from the Patriots on September 5, 2015.
Will Jonas Gray return to professional football?
Gray got another chance with the Miami Dolphins. Much like his first run there, he was mostly ignored. The Jacksonville Jaguars also gave him a shot, but a torn quad at training camp knocked him out for 2016.
He started as a working-class football player living in a one-bedroom apartment up to the morning of that fateful Colts game. Today, he stays in shape for football in between taking care of his family and working at a Boston energy company.
The XFL recently skipped over Gray in their first draft of the rebooted league. The picks heavily leaned towards younger running backs. That leaves open the legitimate possibility that Gray might get a call for a veteran to shore up an immature offense.
Gray’s future may be in flux. His life once hinged on something as silly as a phone charger. But no one can take away the fact that, when Bill Belichick and Tom Brady asked him to perform in one amazing game, Jonas Gray went above and beyond all expectations.