Rashan Gary’s scream said it all.
Moments after the performance of his career, Gary was fired up. Not just about his own performance, but that of the entire team. The Green Bay Packers had just come back from a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the New Orleans Saints 18-17 at Lambeau Field.
Gary had a big hand in that and got a game ball for his efforts, which resulted in him racking up three sacks in a single game for the first time in his career. He literally took the game over and had fans on social media clamoring for Packers general manager to offer him a contract extension before he left the stadium on Sunday.
That obviously wasn’t going to happen, but it’s remarkable how things have changed for Gary. Not just from 2019 when he was drafted by the Packers in a surprising move, but also from not even a year ago when he tore his ACL on November 6th against the Detroit Lions.
No matter what obstacles Gary has faced in his NFL career, from being called a draft bust to tearing his ACL in the middle of a breakout campaign, he’s handled them all the same way.
He destroyed them.
When Gary was drafted by the Packers with the 12th overall pick, it surprised a ton of people. Green Bay had just signed Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency to bolster the pass rush. So why the Packers felt the need to use such a premium pick at edge rushers befuddled many fans and analysts alike.
A two-sack rookie campaign and a quiet sophomore campaign caused some short-sighted fans on social media to break out the “B” word to describe Gary.
Was he a draft bust?
The Packers didn’t think so. He became a full-time starter in 2021 alongside Preston Smith and you could see the growth and development. His third year became his leap year, as missing much of his final year at Michigan could in theory have pushed his development back, and the momentum was building,
Gary finished that year with 9.5 sacks, four of those coming in his final six games of the season. Momentum was beginning to build and the “draft bust” label was shed by all except the truly delusional. He carried that momentum forward, tallying six sacks through nine games of 2022. His first double-digit sack season seemed inevitable as became the Packers’ primary pass rusher.
Then he tore his ACL against the Lions.
With David Bakhtiari’s lengthy recovery at the front of their minds, many wondered how long it would take for Gary to come back and how he would look when he did. As someone who plays with so much power, Gary needs to rely on his legs and ACL recoveries are never the same for every player.
Well, much like the draft bust label that was prematurely thrown his way, Gary destroyed any thoughts of a regression. His activation off the physically unable-to-perform list in training camp was not completely surprising but many had written Gary off for the season opener against the Chicago Bears.
They should have known better.
Gary played. He was on a snap count, but he played against the Bears. He was still limited the second game against the Falcons and even registered half a sack. Once again, momentum was building. This time, it was building towards something truly special.
Three sacks against the Saints later, Gary is fully back and he hasn’t missed a beat. He recorded a hat trick for the first time in his career. Oh, and he STILL was on a pitch count.
After Sunday’s win, head coach Matt LaFleur addressed the locker room. The mood was buoyant after Green Bay tied the record for the largest 4th-quarter comeback in team history. “That is the most resilient performance I’ve ever seen in my life,” LaFleur said, which was followed immediately by a loud yell behind him.
It was Gary.
Gary was undoubtedly thinking of the team there, but LaFleur could just as easily have been talking about Gary. Not even 11 months after tearing his ACL, Gary ripped the Saints to shreds.
Now it was time for LaFleur to actually talk about Gary. “I don’t think there’s anyone in here who wouldn’t go to war with this dude,” he gushed as he threw Gary the game ball.
Emotions ran high, as teammates cheered and patted Gary on the chest as the linebacker shared an emotional embrace with an assistant coach. Once again, Gary had obliterated an obstacle.
May God have mercy on whatever (or whomever) gets in his way next.