Rodgers plays like veteran QB in first NFL start

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One thing became perfectly clear after Aaron Rodgers made his first start at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He didn't waste those three seasons when he was on the bench, sitting behind Brett Favre.

Remember the first

Aaron Rodgers
Comp.-Att.: 18-22

Percentage: 81.8

Passing yards: 178

TDs/INTs: 1/0 (1 rush)

Rushing yards: 35

Result: Win

Brett Favre
Comp.-Att.: 14-19

Percentage: 73.7

Passing yards: 210

TDs/INTs: 2/0

Rushing yards: 12

Result: Win

In fact, Rodgers never looked like a first-time starter in Monday night's 24-19 victory over Minnesota; he showed a veteran's combination of poise, accuracy and resourcefulness.

At the end, even Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams was forced to admit surrender to a quarterback whose name he wouldn't utter in the days leading up to the game because, Williams said, "He ain't Favre."

Of course, who is?

"He showed a lot of poise. So I take my hat off to him," Williams said.

Before the largest regular-season crowd in Lambeau Field history (71,004), Rodgers kept his composure when his offensive teammates committed one gaffe after another to start the game, including six penalties and an aborted snap in a stretch of 10 plays in the first quarter.

Darren Sharper, the former Packer who now plays safety for the Vikings, said Rodgers showed no signs of frustration while his teammates were putting him into bizarre situations like a first-and-33.

Once the game settled down, Rodgers showed off a strong arm on a 56-yard bomb to receiver Greg Jennings to set up the first touchdown. He was more nimble than expected, rushing for 36 yards on six carries before two end-of-game kneel-downs. Three of his scrambles earned first downs and he scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak. He completed 18 of 22 passes for 178 yards, while not throwing an interception or taking a sack, and earned a passer rating of 115.5.

What's not to like?

"He did all the throws that were necessary and he took care of the football, did all the things necessary to not create a situation where they could lose the game," Sharper said. "As a quarterback, that's your job, and he did a good job with that."

"You've got to remind yourself it's just one win, but it was a big one," Rodgers said.

Rodgers hardly could have walked into a tougher situation -- following Favre, the legend who retired, then unretired. While Favre was unceremoniously sent out of town, he had his own big game on Sunday, leaving Rodgers to make his starting debut on Monday night against a team popularly expected to take over the NFC North.

Pressure? What pressure?

"Focus, I think, was the biggest thing," Rodgers said. "A lot of questions this week focused on, 'Are you going to be really nervous for the game?' I don't feel like I was that nervous, and the main reason was because of my preparation.

"That really goes back all the way to March 17 when I came in the offseason program and was labeled 'the guy,' and started working hard from then on ... I just stayed focused on things I could control. It goes back to my preparation and my work ethic, and I think those two things allowed me to come out tonight and play well and hopefully will allow me to have the kind of season I think I'm capable of."

Unfortunately, perhaps Rodgers' best throw of the night, a play-action, pump-fake beauty down the right sideline to Donald Driver, did not count. A penalty for an ineligible receiver downfield wiped out the apparent 68-yard touchdown.

Although the Packers ultimately required a 76-yard punt return by Will Blackmon for one touchdown and a 57-yard run by Ryan Grant to set up another, it was the long pass to Jennings that began to turn the game in their favor. It came on the first play after the Vikings, dominating early behind Adrian Peterson's running, had taken a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.

"In practice all week, I told Greg, if we run this play in the game, just don't stop running, I'm just going to throw it as far as I can and let you make a play," Rodgers said. "That was a big play, momentum-wise."

Green Bay's defense took the cue, too. After yielding 61 yards to Peterson on five first-quarter rushes, the Packers limited him to 42 yards on 14 carries the rest of the night.

Rodgers didn't make many mistakes, and certainly no big ones. He missed a wide-open tight end Donald Lee in the end zone, but threaded a TD pass through traffic to fullback Korey Hall a few plays later. He showed patience in the pocket and only scrambled when he had to. And despite the dozen penalties assessed against the Packers, many on offensive linemen, they managed to limit the Vikings' big-money pass-rush acquisition, leaving Jared Allen with a stat line that showed no tackles and no assists.

"The things I really wanted to get done tonight, make quick decisions, not hold the ball, I feel like I did those things well," Rodgers said. "Throwing the ball, I felt like there were a couple of poor throws, but for the most part, I felt like I made good decisions in the pocket, got the ball out on check-downs quickly, was pretty efficient with the ball for the most part."

"You know, I don't think he could have handled this whole situation better," added Hall. "You can't imagine the amount of pressure he has on his shoulders right now, and he went out and he was collected and calm. He played great, made good decisions, and I think he won the respect of a lot of people, and I think a lot of people have more faith in him now."

Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.

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