With James Starks out injured, Ryan Grant wasn’t going to let this opportunity get away.
He didn’t waste any time on Sunday.
The first time Grant touched the ball against the Raiders, he bolted 47 yards for a touchdown on his way to a 10-carry, 85-yard day that the offense hopes is a sign of things to come for the ground game in the colder weather.
“It was about time,” Grant said of the long run, which was the Packers’ longest of the season. It came technically on Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage in the 46-16 rout, after a defensive offsides penalty wiped out the actual first snap.
“It felt good. Just for the backfield, for the line, the guys were excited. They wanted to run the ball the whole game after that, so that’s a good thing mentally for them.”
It was good mentally for Grant, too, who hadn’t broken off a run that long since Dec. 27, 2009, against Seattle at Lambeau Field. Grant said quarterback Aaron Rodgers checked out of a pass play to give him a handoff to the left. Grant let left guard T.J. Lang clear a defender out of the hole and then made one cut on the second level and was off to the races. The touchdown was his first since the 2009 regular-season finale.
Grant added a 12-yard run on his second carry, and by the middle of the second quarter he found the end zone a second time on a 6-yard burst up the middle on a shotgun draw. The aforementioned ’09 Seattle game was also the last time Grant, who missed all but one game last season due to an ankle injury and has been the second option out of the backfield behind Starks for most of the season, scored twice in one game. He now has five career multi-TD games, including his three-TD performance in the 2007 playoffs.
“It was kind of a day we’ve been waiting for around here, rushing-wise,” Lang said. “Ryan did a great job of setting up blocks and finding open creases and squeezing through and making guys miss. Definitely his best game of the year, and it’s a good time to get the running game going late in the season.”
Grant broke off a 16-yard run in the third quarter to surpass 80 yards, but with rookie Brandon Saine leaving early with a concussion, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he didn’t want to risk an injury to Grant at that point. Fullback John Kuhn took over as the primary ball-carrier the rest of the way and finished with 10 carries for 46 yards.
Had McCarthy not held Grant back, he likely would have topped his season-high of 92 yards, set in Chicago in Week 3. He hadn’t rushed for more than 29 yards in a game since then. Grant also might have gone over 100 yards for the first time since Week 14 of 2009.
Still, the Packers piled up 136 yards on the ground, tying the team’s season-best (at San Diego) and averaging 5.7 yards per rush. Oakland’s running game was talked about much more coming in, but the Raiders had just 117 yards and 4.0 per carry.
“I think it showed today how dangerous we can be if we have a balanced attack, if we’re not just dropping back and throwing the ball 45 times a game,” Lang said. “If we’re able to run the ball and get over 100 yards rushing, it makes us a lot more dangerous. We can open up the playbook a lot that way.”
Grant credited the offensive line with an “awesome” game, and in answering questions from reporters he sounded like the same guy who posted back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons as the featured rusher in 2008-09 – a guy willing to help the team any way he can.
If that means carrying a larger load until Starks gets back, or perhaps seeing his own role increase should his production warrant it, Grant is ready to contribute. He said last Friday that he was feeling as healthy as he’d been in a while, and it looked like it Sunday.
“It’s important to set that bar high,” Grant said. “We’re not content with just winning. We’re not content with just beating teams. We want to win a certain way. There’s a standard for us in how we win games. That’s big and that’s important in taking us where we want to go.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Raiders