GREEN BAY – After being passed on by his old team – and the 31 other NFL teams – throughout the preseason and start of the regular season, return to the Green Bay Packers wasn’t on Ryan Grant’s mind.
“This game is a funny game, a crazy game, so I don’t put anything past it,” the veteran running back said Sunday.
Exactly two months to the day after he was released by the Washington Redskins, Grant looked like the guy who ran for 1,253 yards in 2009 for the Packers, rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in the Packers’ 55-7 blowout victory over the Tennessee Titans.
“I don’t know … 55-7, I think that’s what we showed,” Grant replied when asked if he’d shown the Packers something with his performance. “I don’t get into that. I’m very prideful about the way I perform. I’m my biggest critic. So I need to see what I showed myself first. It felt good just to be able to contribute on that level, get support from the guys and the fans and for the team to finish the way we did. That was awesome.”
Grant got things going on the Packers’ second drive of the game, carrying three times for 33 yards to set up quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 6-yard touchdown scramble.
“They didn’t do anything differently than what we thought,” Grant said. “We were able to make some moves and you had some guys behind do a great job and we were able to move the ball down the field. It did set the tone for what we wanted to do the rest of the day.”
Then, on the team’s second drive of the third quarter, Rodgers found Grant on a short pass that he turned into a 34-yard gain to the Tennessee 1-yard line, setting up Greg Jennings’ 1-yard touchdown catch on the next play.
Then, in fourth quarter, Grant took over. First, he scored from 7 yards out after Jeremy Ross’ 58-yard punt return. Then, Grant finished off the Titans, capping the Packers’ next drive with a 9-yard rushing touchdown after cutting left and splitting two Tennessee defenders to dive into the end zone.
Having shared time with James Starks last season, Grant hadn’t gotten 20 carries in a game since Dec. 13, 2009, when he ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts in a 21-14 victory at Chicago. This was also only the seventh week of this season that he’s been on a roster, having spent four weeks with the Redskins before joining the Packers.
“I feel good. I don’t know about how fresh. Football’s one of those things where once you get hit, the fresh goes out,” Grant said. “But I feel good. I’m sure I feel better than a lot of guys who have been running around all year. I’m sure I’ll be a little sore after today. But I’ll be OK. I did what I needed to do conditioning-wise. I need to work a little more on that no-huddle conditioning. But I’m comfortable with where I’m at physically.”
To be handed that much of a workload just 22 days after joining a team, there has to be a level of trust and comfort. Packers coach Mike McCarthy feels Grant earned that in his previous time in Green Bay.
“It’s great to have Ryan back,” McCarthy said. “He gives us so much more off the field, but he’s such a steady, hard-nosed, downhill runner.”
Last week, Grant tested some of that trust with a fumble in the third quarter against the Bears. At that point, the Packers were up 21-7, but Chicago got a field goal on the resulting drive and the next to make it just a one possession game.
McCarthy showed his faith in Grant immediately after, though, giving him four carries on the Packers’ final two drives of the game when they were trying to keep the ball and maintain their 21-13 lead.
This week was a different story with Alex Green inactive due to a concussion. Although DuJuan Harris started the game – after Grant had been announced as the starter – Grant led the team in carries and yards. Harris also scored, running in his second touchdown of the season in the third quarter to increase the Packers’ lead to 27-0.
Harris also spent a good portion of the year without a spot on a team’s active roster. He was released by Jacksonville on Aug. 25, only to be claimed by Pittsburgh two days later before being released again on Aug. 31. Harris was signed to the Packers’ practice squad on Oct. 24 and to the active roster Dec. 1. He, like Grant, made his debut against Detroit in Week 14.
“As long as you continue to work and prepare yourself, your opportunity is going to come,” Harris said. “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how long that tunnel is.”
Grant, meanwhile, said he never doubted that he’d be able to contribute.
“Why would I doubt myself? Based on what? (Being a free agent) wasn’t my choice,” Grant said. “I wouldn’t doubt myself. I know what I can do.”
Matt Trebby covers the Packers for ESPNWisconsin.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/trebby.