GREEN BAY – It's difficult for Rashan Gary not to get emotional when thinking about the road he's traveled the past 10 months.
After a season-ending knee injury derailed a promising 2022 campaign, all the Packers' young pass rusher wanted was an opportunity to propel his team to a win with his play on the field.
On Sunday, Gary was nothing short of dominant during a three-sack performance that helped pave the way to an 18-17 comeback victory for Green Bay over the New Orleans Saints in front of 78,043 at Lambeau Field.
It was the first time a Packers linebacker registered at least three sacks since Za'Darius Smith had three against Atlanta on Oct. 5, 2020. Dating back to Week 4 of the 2021 season, Gary has now recorded 15 sacks in his last 12 games at Lambeau Field.
And Gary did it Sunday while still operating on a snap count, which has been part of the plan for reintroducing the 25-year-old linebacker to the defense after a tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November in Detroit.
"The main this is I'm just happy to go out there and go to war with you guys," Gary said he told his teammates. "That's something that I truly missed over the 9½ months or so that I was out. That's something I truly missed. Me being able to be back, plus be an impact (player), that's all I want and I'm just happy I was able to take the steppingstone in the right direction that I want to go."
Gary began Sunday rotating in on third downs and quickly found a route to New Orleans quarterback Derek Carr. On the first play of the second quarter, Gary dropped Carr for a 5-yard loss on third-and-9 to force a Saints punt.
The 6-foot-5, 277-pound linebacker started the second half in similar fashion when he sacked Carr again on third-and-9. Carr injured his shoulder on the play and did not return.
As impressive as Gary's early pressures were, his first-and-14 sack of Jameis Winston in the fourth quarter helped spark the Packers' late rally. The Saints were forced to punt three plays later and Green Bay answered with its first touchdown drive of the game to cut New Orleans' lead to one score.
Gary finished with three tackles, four quarterback hits and the three sacks for 20 lost yards.
"I'm so proud of him," said defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who was responsible for Green Bay's other sack on Sunday. "I just know the work that he put in. I know how much he cares about this team. I know how much he loves football, and he loves to be out there. I was excited to see that."
Gary had generated his fair share of pressures in the first two games, but safety Darnell Savage said there were a couple times on Sunday that Gary was getting to the Saints' QBs before he even got to his spot in coverage.
After the game, an emotional Gary accepted a game ball from Head Coach Matt LaFleur for his dominant showcase against the Saints.
"His fight and his determination to make sure he's available for us to go out there and make big plays … he got out there and made a lot of big plays today," linebacker Preston Smith said.
"We needed him to do that, and he answered the bell, and he's gonna continue to do big things in this league."
Next men stepping up: The Packers' secondary had some shuffling to do with a back injury sidelining All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander against the Saints.
The challenge grew even larger after Alexander's replacement, rookie Carrington Valentine, was sidelined in the second half with a bicep injury.
The next man up was Corey Ballentine, who was elevated for the game off the practice squad. The fifth-year veteran held his own, recording four tackles and breaking up a third-down pass intended for Olave in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't know he was even hurt," said Douglas of Valentine. "We came in at halftime and we were like, 'Where's CV at?' They were like, 'He's over there, he's hurt.' Told 'Ball,' you up. 'Ball' was ready. But we all practice like (starters). Coach (Greg Williams) does a great job of getting everybody reps, so we all be on the same page most of the time."
The Packers' defense also finished without linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who left with a knee injury and didn't return. Isaiah McDuffie and Eric Wilson rotated in his place next to Quay Walker.
"We gotta lot of young guys playing and those guys are growing on the fly," Clark said. "You want guys to constantly be improving whether it's practice, in the game, during the game, that's what you want to see and those guys did that today. It's all mindset. It's all love. We fought for each other today."
O-line sticks together: Green Bay's offensive line again pulled together in the face of injuries to produce another clean pocket for quarterback Jordan Love.
All told, Love was sacked just one time – a 14-yard loss on third-and-8 in the second quarter – but wasn't even brought to the ground on the play.
"I think it gives all of us a boost of confidence, especially the young guys in the two-deeps because they were able to step up to the plate and get it done," center Josh Myers said. "That's more depth now, more experience. I can't say enough about the job these guys did, filling in at all of those spots."
Check out photos from the Week 3 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023.
The Packers' DPI guy: A week after drawing a 44-yard defensive pass interference play on the first snap against Atlanta, Dontayvion Wicks did it again versus New Orleans.
The rookie receiver forced a 45-yard DPI against New Orleans cornerback Alontae Taylor to kickstart what turned out to be Green Bay's first TD-producing drive in the fourth quarter.
"I wasn't trying to get the penalty. I was trying to catch the ball," said Wicks, who finished with four catches for 45 yards. "It happened how it happened, but my whole mindset was to catch the ball anyway even though it was on the other side of him. Going through him to catch the ball, that's what drew the penalty."