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Rodgers, Packers perform well in win

Monday, September 8, 2008

By CHRIS JENKINS

AP Sports Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers passed his first test as the Green Bay Packers' new quarterback, throwing for 178 yards and a touchdown and scoring on a game-clinching sneak in a 24-19 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.

Rodgers, who was 18-of-22, got help from the Packers' special teams, running back Ryan Grant and safety Atari Bigby to beat a bitter division rival in his first regular-season start, which came in the wake of Brett Favre's offseason unretirement saga.

"I'm happy we won, and that he played well," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's what's important. I don't really get caught up in all the other things. And it's important for him not to, too."

Will Blackmon's 76-yard punt return gave Green Bay a 17-6 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson answered with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice on fourth-and-1 to cut the Packers' lead to five with 14:12 remaining. But a 2-point conversion attempt failed when Jackson threw a pass slightly behind Rice in the back of the end zone.

Grant then broke free for a 57-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Packers (1-0) first-and-goal at the 2. After a penalty against the Vikings (0-1), Rodgers was stuffed on his first attempt at a quarterback sneak but plunged into the end zone on the second try.

Rodgers acknowledged he was happy to get his first start out of the way, but generally seemed to be enjoying life as the No. 1 quarterback.

"Tonight, knowing I was going to get the first snap was pretty special," Rodgers said. "And running out of the tunnel to the electric atmosphere that we had, it was a pretty special night."

After scoring on the sneak, Rodgers emphatically spiked the ball and jumped into the stands for a "Lambeau Leap" as Green Bay took a 24-12 lead with 6:03 remaining.

"I've been dreaming about that for four years, to be honest," Rodgers said.

Jackson then led the Vikings on an 11-play drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson, cutting the Packers' lead to 24-19 with 2:39 remaining.

An onside kick attempt by Ryan Longwell bounced out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Packers at their own 39. But the Packers had to punt, giving the ball back to Minnesota at its own 31 with 1:51 remaining.

But with the Vikings driving near midfield with under a minute remaining, Bigby stepped in front of Jackson's pass for an interception to put the game away.

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen thought the Vikings missed an opportunity after getting to Rodgers and the Packers early.

"We were shutting him down," Allen said. "And then they hit a couple of big plays and they got a momentum swing."

Getting his first start that counts in a heated division rivalry -- one that became even more intense when the Packers accused the Vikings of tampering with the then-retired Favre in the offseason, a charge that was dismissed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- Rodgers didn't provide the offensive feast-or-famine performance that had become Favre's trademark.

But Rodgers was effective. And, at times, pretty darn entertaining.

Most important, he walked off the field a winner for a team and fan base that had been cheering the same starting quarterback since 1992 and watched in disbelief as an ugly divorce between Favre and the Packers played out in training camp.

Now Favre is playing for the New York Jets and Rodgers' place as the new leader of the Pack appears to be secure, at least for a week.

Minnesota got a solid performance from Peterson, who ran for 103 yards and a touchdown. But the Vikings' own quarterback questions, however, remain unanswered.

Jackson, who hadn't played since after injuring his knee in an Aug. 16 preseason game against Baltimore, was 2-of-7 for 16 yards in a rough first half.

He seemed to find his rhythm in the second half, finishing 16-of-35 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Jackson generally was outplayed by Rodgers, who shrugged off a shaky, penalty-filled start to the game to heave a 56-yard pass to Greg Jennings on the first play of the Packers' third possession to set up first-and-goal.

Rodgers then found himself under pressure from Vikings linebacker E.J. Henderson on third-and-goal. Dancing to avoid the rush, Rodgers fired an off-balance rocket through airtight coverage to fullback Korey Hall for a touchdown.

Rodgers, the Packers' first-round draft pick in 2005, spent most of the past three seasons in Favre's shadow, standing on the sideline and playing mostly in mop-up duty. Last season, he replaced an injured Favre in Dallas and nearly led the Packers to a comeback victory.

That was the biggest moment of his career -- until now.

And Rodgers' big night could have been even bigger.

With the Packers leading 10-6 in the third quarter, Rodgers threw a perfect pass to Donald Driver, allowing him to run free for an apparent 68-yard touchdown. But the play was called back after guard Tony Moll was flagged for an ineligible receiver downfield penalty.

But after a defensive stop by the Packers, Blackmon broke free for his second career punt return for a touchdown that put Green Bay ahead 17-6 with 6:35 left in the third quarter.



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