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Packers players backing Rodgers after solid debut

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was the kind of situation that made a Pro Bowl player out of former seventh-round draft pick Donald Driver: a scalding pass in heavy traffic between the hashmarks, with a first down on the line.

But Driver bobbled it -- and immediately found Aaron Rodgers to apologize.

"I let a big third-down play go early on, I dropped one," Driver said. "After that, I went to the sideline and told him it was my fault and I told him it won't happen again. He knows that, he trusts me, and as you see, he kept throwing the ball to me."

It was a subtle sign of respect from Driver, a veteran who often called Brett Favre his "brother from another mother" over the years. But Favre is gone now, leaving Rodgers to replace one of the most popular and productive players in franchise history.

By turning a cold shoulder to Favre's sudden desire to unretire and instead send him packing in a trade to the New York Jets last week, the Packers' front office and coach Mike McCarthy put their reputations on the line to show confidence in Rodgers.

And Rodgers' solid showing in his preseason debut as Favre's replacement Monday night was a first step toward winning over skeptical fans, even though the Packers went on to lose 20-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

But Rodgers is most concerned about winning the respect of his teammates, and it was their reaction that meant the most to him.

"After I came out, a lot of guys were really positive about how I played, which feels good," Rodgers said. "It feels good to know that I have the support of not only the management, which I think has been proven in the public eye, but the guys as well -- which is very important to me."

Rodgers and the Packers' No. 1 offense got off to a shaky start. The Packers had to punt after a false start, a sack and Driver's drop on their first possession.

Rodgers then drove the Packers into Bengals territory on their second possession, only to throw an interception off a deflection when his pass hit backup wide receiver Chris Francies square in the "83" on his chest.

But Rodgers warmed up after that, making several impressive plays in leading the Packers to a pair of scores: A 37-yard field goal by Mason Crosby and a 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Jones, who shook off a hard hit that jarred his helmet loose to run to the end zone (Highlight).

"A couple of balls got away from us," said Jones, who narrowly missed hooking up with Rodgers for another long touchdown earlier in the game. "(The) interception, we could've caught the ball. A couple of dropped passes. Overall, he played great. He led the offense, and that's all we can ask for."

Rodgers was relieved by rookie Brian Brohm after the first quarter, with the Packers holding a 10-0 lead. Rodgers finished 9-for-15 for 117 yards -- a decent showing, especially considering the tough spot Rodgers has been in for the past month.

"He was probably more excited than anyone else to get in front of the home crowd and just show 'em what he can do," Driver said. "He went out there and played well."

After quietly waiting for his turn during three seasons spent mostly on the bench, Rodgers spent the offseason preparing to take over as the starter. But when Favre apparently got the "itch" to play again in late June, Rodgers was sucked into the middle of one of the more bizarre and bitter splits between a team and its star player in recent memory.

Until it became obvious early last week that the rift between Favre and the Packers was beyond repair, Rodgers was put under intense pressure and began playing inconsistently in practice.

He struggled in the team's "Family Night" scrimmage Aug. 3, drawing boos from the crowd as Favre - who had flown into town that afternoon, apparently intent on forcing a trade or competing with Rodgers for the starting job -- loomed in a suite overlooking the field.

But Rodgers and the team got closure when McCarthy said last Tuesday that he wasn't convinced Favre was committed to the Packers. Favre was traded the next day.

"I'm very proud of him," Driver said of Rodgers. "I told him, 'You're a better man than most people because most people wouldn't be able to handle the situation the way he handled it.' He handled it just like a grown man and said the right things. It seems to have worked out for him."

After watching Rodgers in action, outspoken Bengals receiver Chad Johnson said moving on might not be so bad for the Packers.

"Favre was very, very good," Johnson said. "He did some wonderful things for Green Bay. Some wonderful things. It was that time. I'm not sure, I don't know the entire situation of what really went on, but he's gone. It's Aaron's time now, and they need to give him a chance. Don't compare Aaron Rodgers to Brett Favre. He has to make his own shoes, make his own set of footprints and make his own success, but I think he'll be all right. He looked pretty good tonight."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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