A few weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers were in a slump. They had fallen to 3-6 after starting 2-1, and fans were starting to scapegoat edge rusher Rashan Gary and his freshly signed $100 million contract extension. But after a sack and a fumble recovery in the Week 11 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Gary ruined Thanksgiving Day for the Detroit Lions. He dominated with three sacks and two forced fumbles, picking an outstanding spot to show exactly why the Packers paid a player of his caliber.
The Packers took Gary 12th overall in 2019. It was Green Bay’s highest investment of a draft pick since they selected B.J. Raji with the ninth-overall pick in 2009. Gary’s draft pedigree inherently came with a tremendous amount of pressure. Gary showed a substantial leap in his third season, rising to 9.5 sacks while still seeing less than 70% of snaps on defense. Then he tore his ACL just over a year ago amid another promising season. Gary said and did all the right things in his rehabilitation, returning far sooner than expected.
In the ups and downs of this season, Gary peaked early with three sacks in a Week 3 comeback win against the New Orleans Saints. But then he slumped to only one sack over the next six weeks, during which the Packers went 1-5. Signing a mega-contract in the middle of a losing streak was still absolutely the right move for the future. However, it provided agitated Cheeseheads with one more person to complain about when it felt like the season might be slipping away.
Enter Thursday, when Green Bay headed on the road as 8.5-point underdogs against a Detroit Lions team that had throttled the Packers in September to start the four-game losing streak. Gary made his presence felt from the first quarter with his sack and forced fumble of Jared Goff that teammate Jonathan Owens scooped up and scored on. Gary beautifully shakes off Taylor Decker as Goff climbs the pocket and meets the quarterback just in the nick of time before he releases it. That forced the fumble rather than an incomplete pass, leading to the easy touchdown for Mr. Simone Biles.
Gary added a sack early in the second quarter. However, his third and final sack of the game was arguably the most impactful, stopping Detroit’s drive inside Packers territory early in the fourth quarter. The Lions had picked up three first downs and were looking to tighten the game into a one-score margin. Facing fourth-and-seven, Gary wasn’t about to let Detroit sniff anything out. He raced past Decker with a stutter step before launching into Goff for a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery trifecta.
In a vacuum, the stat line for Gary is tremendous. Three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a partridge in a pear tree, all in only 51% of Green Bay’s defensive snaps. Add in that it came on the road, on a short week, against a rival, for a defense without Jaire Alexander, Rudy Ford, and De’Vondre Campbell, making it all the more impressive. Nobody would have raised their eyebrows if Green Bay had lost by two touchdowns on Thanksgiving. However, Gary had other ideas. It’s exactly the kind of game-tilting performance you’d expect when you hand out a $100 million contract, and it came at the most necessary time for the Packers.
The win is beneficial in several different ways. It stacks back-to-back victories heading into 10 days of preparation for a visit by the defending Super Bowl champs. It thrusts Green Bay back “in the hunt” in every playoff graphic that the TV networks showed all weekend, and it gives the Packers confidence to know that they can beat a dang good team. After hosting the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, the schedule isn’t exactly a murderer’s row. There’s most definitely a pep in the step of all parties involved at 1265 Lombardi Ave. this week.
Jordan Love, Christian Watson, and Jayden Reed were bright spots for Green Bay, but Gary’s star shined the brightest against Detroit. Add in that he was playing in the building where he tore his ACL just over a year ago, and it adds the cherry on top of an emotionally charged afternoon for the budding superstar. Three-sack games certainly aren’t going to be the expectation for Gary every week. Still, it was awesome to see him wreck a game and help shift the tide in favor of the Packers when the outlook seemed bleak otherwise.