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Game notes: Rashan Gary's explosive first half sets tone for defense

David Bakhtiari and Robert Tonyan surpass major checkpoints in their returns

Packers linebacker Rashan Gary recorded 7 tackles and 2 sacks in Green Bay's 27-24 overtime victory over the New England Patriots.
Packers linebacker Rashan Gary recorded 7 tackles and 2 sacks in Green Bay's 27-24 overtime victory over the New England Patriots.

GREEN BAY – Rashan Gary's breakthrough season hit another level in the first half of Sunday's matchup with New England.

The emerging pass rusher continued his torrid start to 2022, recording seven tackles and two sacks in the first 30 minutes of the Packers' eventual 27-24 overtime win over the Patriots.

The Packers went in knowing how pivotal Gary and the pass rush would be against a Patriots offense quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer, who was starting in place of Mac Jones (ankle).

It didn't take Gary long to find the 14-year veteran, as the 24-year-old linebacker sacked Hoyer on third-and-10 to end New England's second offensive possession in the first quarter.

With Hoyer suffering a head injury on the play, rookie Bailey Zappe was sent in to replace him. When Zappe and New England were threatening near the end of the second quarter, Gary busted through for a strip sack that he recovered himself.

While Gary made the play, the Packers' sack leader credited teammate and mentor Preston Smith for giving him "a little extra juice."

"All I remember, it might have been like two plays before and Preston's like, 'Get the ball out. I see you being close. Get the ball out and I got you,'" Gary recalled. "And man, God was shining on me on that play, and I seen him and seen the ball and I punched it."

Gary has been a nuisance in the backfield through the first four games, amassing 19 tackles and a team-high five sacks.

With his first-quarter sack of Hoyer, the 6-foot-5, 277-pound linebacker became the first Packers player to register a sack in each of the first four games of a season since Cullen Jenkins in 2010.

He's just the fourth Green Bay player to accomplish the feat, also joining Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (2001) and Sean Jones (1994).

"Just chipping away day by day man," said Gary when asked about his fast start. "I'm really not paying attention to it. I'm just, our No. 1 goal as a team and as a unit is what I'm trying to help add to."

Gary had two of Green Bay's four sacks Sunday. Defensive linemen Jarran Reed got his first in a Packers uniform, while Dean Lowry and Smith split another in the third quarter.

The Patriots didn't go away, though. They switched things up in the second half, utilizing Marcus Cannon more as a sixth offensive lineman to get Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson going out of the backfield.

The two running backs combined for 152 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries (4.8 yards per attempt), while Zappe completed 10-of-15 passes for 99 yards and a TD to keep the Patriots in the game.

Ultimately, Green Bay's defense made the stops it needed down the stretch to pull out the win – including a three-and-out in overtime that gave the ball back to the Packers' offense.

"We've been getting better and better every Sunday. But we have yet to play our standard of ball," Gary said. "There's still things that we have to correct to play our perfect game. That's what we're all trying to do and make sure that we're doing it together."

Bakh for more: The Packers' plan for David Bakhtiari going into the weekend involved the All-Pro left tackle playing around 50 snaps in his second game of the 2022 season.

Instead, Bakhtiari wound up playing almost all of the 71 offensive plays the Packers ran against the Patriots instead of alternating series with Yosh Nijman like he did a week earlier in Tampa.

Ready for anything after Nijman was added to the injury report Saturday night with an illness, Bakhtiari felt good out of the gate on Sunday.

After the Packers' opening drive lasted just two plays due to a fumble, Bakhtiari and offensive line coach Luke Butkus traded glances when determining whether to send the starting left tackle back out for a second straight series.

"I was like, 'I feel kinda good,' and me and Butkus kept looking at each other, I'm like, 'Yeah, let's go,'" Bakhtiari said. "I think the first series was, we were quick, two plays, and then he was like, 'We're not counting the two.' All right."

Citing the "extremely" high standard he sets for himself, Bakhtiari said he doesn't feel all the way back quite yet. But he is happy about the positive strides he's made in his journey back from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of last season.

"It's been a long, long journey for me, so I'm just grateful to have the opportunity to be back out there," Bakhtiari said. "All I asked for was the ability to compete again, and I'm thankful to have that opportunity."

See scenes from the Sunday afternoon matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots at Lambeau Field on Oct. 2, 2022.

Tonyan's touchdown: Bakhtiari wasn't the only player coming off a lengthy rehab from a torn anterior cruciate ligament to clear a major checkpoint against New England.

Tight end Robert Tonyan made one of his trademark plays with quarterback Aaron Rodgers when he brought in a 20-yard touchdown pass down the seam early in the third quarter.

"They went two high and simple – that's clockwork for Aaron," Tonyan said. "I was in the right spot at the right time, for sure."

It was Tonyan's first TD since tearing his ACL last October in Arizona. It not only made for a special moment for Tonyan but also those who watched the tight end's road to recovery.

"That was huge. That was huge for me," said friend and teammate Allen Lazard. "To be part of his journey and see him come back from where he was at the end of October when he first incurred that injury, I have so much respect for him and so much love for him to see how much he's put into being in the position he's in today."

Rudy gets the call: One week after Jaire Alexander exited in the first quarter in Tampa Bay, the Packers' secondary took another hit when it lost starting safety Adrian Amos to a concussion less than 10 minutes into Sunday's game.

Rudy Ford, signed just last month, replaced Amos and finished with seven tackles on the back end while playing opposite Darnell Savage.

The 6-foot, 200-pound safety also was in coverage on tight end Hunter Henry when Zappe's third-and-5 pass fell incomplete in overtime, leading to a punt.

"I feel like all those guys in our room are always ready for their opportunity," Savage said. "I feel like that's something that's really special about our room. We got a lot of depth and a lot of guys who can do some really good things."


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