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Game notes: Rashan Gary comes up big in emotional return to Ford Field

Packers stay home on fake punt; offensive line pitches shutout

Packers LB Rashan Gary sacks Lions QB Jared Goff in Thursday's game in Detroit.
Packers LB Rashan Gary sacks Lions QB Jared Goff in Thursday's game in Detroit.

DETROIT – All week long, members of the Packers' defense were telling Rashan Gary that he was going to have a big performance in his highly anticipated return to Ford Field.

And the fifth-year linebacker did not disappoint.

A year removed from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Detroit, Gary turned in one of the finest performances of his career with seven tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles to help propel the Packers to a 29-22 Thanksgiving victory over the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions.

The first of Gary's two strip sacks of Lions quarterback Jared Goff produced a 27-yard Jonathan Owens fumble recovery for a touchdown, pushing Green Bay's first-quarter lead to 20-6.

"It was a natural (setup, where) Kenny (Clark) got high and I was able to wrap around Kenny and I saw Goff winding up," Gary said. "I was just praying I got there in time. I know I tipped the ball, I didn't know what it was going to be. When I got up, I saw J.O. in the end zone, so I said, 'Oh that's what's up.'"

Gary was in Goff's vision all afternoon. After recording his second sack on a fruitless second-quarter drive for the Lions, Gary stripped the veteran quarterback of the ball again early in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 29-14, the Lions attempted to go for it on fourth-and-7 from the Green Bay 31, but Gary punched the ball out and this time recovered his own fumble.

It's the first time a Packers player has had three sacks and two forced fumbles in the same game since Aaron Kampman did it against New Orleans on Sept. 1, 2006.

It also was Gary's second three-sack game of the year after he previously wreaked havoc during the Packers' come-from-behind, 18-17 victory over the Saints in Week 3.

On a day in which Head Coach Matt LaFleur awarded game balls to the entire team, defensive lineman Kenny Clark joked afterwards that Gary was probably deserving of two – especially given everything he's been through over the past year.

"Just telling him (we're) ready for him to come back and put on a great performance and that's what he did," Clark said. "He came back and got three sacks, disruptive all game, disruptive in the run game. He balled out today."

Gary was tabbed as one of the Packers' three captains for Thursday's game. He admitted Thursday was probably the most emotional game he's played in given how his 2022 season ended at Ford Field.

While Gary made it back in time for the 2023 opener, it took an exhaustive rehab process to get there. Gary said the week of preparation brought back some difficult memories, but his mind was clear as soon as the game started.

"I want to give all thanks to my higher power, my family members that kept me locked in, kept me out of my head, especially going into this week," said Gary, who leads the Packers with 8½ sacks this season.

"It was a really emotional week. Being able to come back, first off, leave the game (as) healthy as where I (started), that's what I asked my Holy Father for. He blessed me to leave the game healthy and He blessed me a little bit extra."

Not fooling around: For all of the big plays the defense made, the most critical stop might have been the special-teams unit staying home on Detroit's fake punt in the third quarter.

Down 23-14, the ultra-aggressive Lions executed a direct snap to personal protector Jalen Reeves-Maybin on fourth-and-4 from their own 23. The play went nowhere as Packers rookie linebacker Lukas Van Ness quickly stuffed Reeves-Maybin for no gain.

Three plays later, quarterback Jordan Love hit Christian Watson for a 16-yard touchdown that pushed Green Bay's lead to 29-14.

"We practiced it all week," said Van Ness, who finished with three tackles (one for a loss) and two QB hits. "Given that it was a Thanksgiving, we knew a lot of that (trick) stuff comes out. So be ready for it. Coach Rich (Bisaccia) stressed be aware right before we went out there. I was rushing but right away I noticed something was up and got my eyes up and was able to make the tackle."

O-line pitches a shutout: The Packers' offensive line kept Love clean all afternoon, conceding just four quarterback hits and no sacks.

Love responded with his third three-TD, zero-INT game of the season. According to Elias, Love is the first quarterback in team history to achieve that feat within his first 12 starts.

"You always want to keep your quarterback clean and give him time in the pocket to get our receivers the ball," guard Elgton Jenkins said. "It was definitely a good effort by us. We said in the game we want to dominate. We want to dominate; we don't want to compete. I feel like we did that up front, for sure."

Like it did in Sunday's 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay rotated Rasheed Walker and Yosh Nijman at left tackle throughout the game, while Sean Rhyan worked two series at right guard.

Check out photos from the Week 12 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.