EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Suffering two serious injuries nine months apart is not a hard enough gut punch to keep Sterling Shepard down. He returned to the field after rupturing his left Achilles tendon. And he is determined to do so after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in the same leg.
"I'm a fighter," Shepard said today. "I want to go out on my own terms. I don't want something like this to make me go out. So, I'm going to fight to get my body back to where I can perform and get this thing good."
Shepard sustained his latest injury 10 days ago. Nine months and one week after he was first carted off the field, he again went down without contact in the waning moments of a home game against the Dallas Cowboys. In 2021, only three games remained when he was hurt. Now, the wide receiver and longest-tenured Giants player will be out of uniform for the final 14 games of the season.
"Obviously, just coming off my Achilles and having to deal with the ACL is no fun," Shepard said. "But I just try to come in with a positive attitude. I feel like that helps the recovery process. You take a day of grieving, and it's time to move forward. It's frustrating, but I try to come at it with a positive attitude, like I said. I fight through it. I've gotten through it once; I can do it again."
Shepard was running a route far from the ball when he fell to the ground with 1:11 remaining against Dallas. No player was within five yards of him.
"It was really weird," Shepard said. "I think I actually partially tore it probably like two plays before that. I think I partially tore it. I kind of got up, and my knee did something funny. I was just like, 'Forget about it, and keep on pushing.' The next play actually got blown dead (because of a false start), which in hindsight I'm kind of happy about because I was about to have to stick off my left and hard cut. And the next play I was literally just jogging, and I'm sure you guys saw it. It just slid on me and popped.
"You wouldn't think anything would happen from there. Maybe I was compensating throughout the game for a little lack of strength. I don't know; it could be a number of things. But it was no fun."
Shepard has remained around the team. He was a vocal presence on the sideline when the Giants defeated Chicago Sunday and has attended practice. Shepard will travel with the Giants tomorrow to London, where they will face the Green Bay Packers this week.
"Just helping the guys out," Shepard said. "Just because I'm going down doesn't mean I need to have a cloud over my head and bring everybody else down. I think it's big for me, being one of the veteran guys in this locker room, to help the guys in any way I can – whether that's helping them with route technique or just to hype them up. I like to be around the guys."
Shepard said it is "still kind of up in the air" when he will have surgery to repair the torn ligament. But no matter when it is, he expects to return to the field in 2023.
"I'm not going to let this get me down," he said. "I'm going to fight through it. I've done it once, I can do it again. It gives me a chance to get my body fully healthy, and I feel good about it."
*The Giants today welcomed back offensive lineman Nick Gates, who suffered a catastrophic leg injury last year. Gates had not played or practiced since Sept. 16, 2021, when he fractured the fibula and tibia in his left leg in Washington, injuries that required seven surgeries to mend.
Gates began the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, but this week he passed his physical and today practiced for the first time.
He can practice for up to 21 days before the Giants must decide to activate Gates or placed him back on PUP for the remainder of the season.
"I feel good," Gates said. "It's nice to be back out there on the field, it's nice to run around with the guys. It was a good time. It was a good feeling to be back out there. I didn't think I was going to be back out there this fast.
"I was just excited to be back out there. I just wanted to go out there and just play football again. Not have to think, not have to worry about making calls – just go out there and play football. It was fun, it was fun to be back out there with the guys. That camaraderie, you don't get that when you're just by yourself doing indy (individual work) or off to the side. It was good to be back in there with the guys."
Coach Brian Daboll wasn't here was Gates was hurt, but he has become of fan of his during the player's comeback.
"Impressive," Daboll said. "We had a walkthrough earlier and had him break down the team. Much respect to really anybody that comes back from injuries, but his injuries were significant. All the surgeries and he's had nothing but a positive mindset since he's been here. The guys were hooting and hollering when he was breaking them down. You root for guys like that. It's a tough industry we're in, in terms of physical things that can happen. Just a lot of respect for him and what he's done and proud of the young man."
The versatile Gates has played in 34 games with 21 starts – 17 at center, two at right tackle, and one at each guard position. How can he help the team now?
"I don't want to jump that far ahead," he said. "I've just got to take it day by day and get myself back up to where I was before I got hurt. I'm just thinking of the next day ahead."
Gates concedes his long rehabilitation was "lonely" at times. He wondered whether the pain and hard work were worth returning to the football field. Today, he's certain they were.
"I just wanted to play football again, to be honest with you," he said. "Just being out there is fun. I don't know how else to explain it, but I was watching the last game up in the box the last couple of weeks we were playing and I'm like, 'I just want to be back out there again with the guys and just have fun.' What other job lets you hit people and basically do whatever you want? (Laughs) It's a fun time."
*The Giants have other players they hope will return to the field at some point. Offensive lineman Matt Peart is on PUP and cornerback Rodarius Williams, linebacker Elerson Smith and guard Shane Lemieux are on injured reserve.
Asked if any of them are "close," Daboll said, "Potentially, but not right now."
View photos from practice as the Giants gear up for their Week 5 matchup against the Packers in London.