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Rodgers throws 3 early TDs, Packers take 28-17 halftime lead over Saints
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) ' Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes and James Starks rushed for another score, giving the Green Bay Packers a 28-17 halftime lead over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
The Packers' title defense got off to a fast start.
Rodgers hit three receivers for touchdowns ' finding Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and rookie Randall Cobb as Green Bay's offense picked up where it left off after a 31-25 win over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
After Green Bay built a 21-7 first-quarter lead, New Orleans came back with 41-year-old John Kasay's 30-yard field goal and Darren Sproles' 72-yard punt return for a touchdown.
As Sproles scored, he turned his back on the crowd and pointed emphatically to his name plate.
The diminutive back isn't Reggie Bush, who left for Miami, but he may be more dynamic and broke through when linebacker Brad Jones fell on punt coverage, one of many noticeable slips early.
The score cut Green Bay's lead to 21-17, and a smattering of "Who Dat" chants could be heard despite an overwhelmingly partisan Packers crowd.
But Green Bay answered as the Saints' aggressive defense began playing more zone coverage.
The Packers used the run, and Starks dragged safety Roman Harper into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown following key blocks by Scott Wells and T.J. Lang.
Rodgers, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, went 18 of 24 for 227 yards in the first half, picking up where he left off after leading the Packers to four postseason wins for the team's first title since 1997.
The Packers have won a record 13 NFL championships, including four Super Bowls.
On Thursday, they won the toss, took the ball and went right down the field, Rodgers hitting Nelson for a 36-yard gain to set up a back-shoulder toss to Jennings for a 7-yard touchdown.
Saints wide receiver Marques Colston fumbled on a hard hit by Nick Collins on New Orleans' second offensive play, giving the Packers a short field that Rodgers capitalized on with a 36-yard TD drive.
But Donald Driver made his 700th career catch, and Nelson caught a 3-yard pass from Rodgers to give Green Bay a 14-0 lead.
Rodgers found Cobb for a 32-yard score to put Green Bay ahead 21-7 after Saints quarterback Drew Brees found Robert Meachem for a 31-yard score in the first quarter. Brees, who was MVP of the 2010 Super Bowl, was 14 of 21 for 169 yards at halftime.
The Saints were already missing three key players.
Defensive end Will Smith was serving the first of his two-game suspension for his 2008 positive test for a banned diuretic, wide receiver Lance Moore remained missing with an injured groin and kicker Garrett Hartley's right hip kept him from the opener.
Before the game, 50,000 filled the streets surrounding Lambeau Field for the NFL's pregame concert and party, which included national acts Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum and Maroon 5.
It was rocking inside a sold-out and soon-to-be-expanded Lambeau, too, where the Packers plan a $130 million renovation to increase capacity by 6,600 by adding seats to south end zone over the next two years.
After fireworks, a flyover and the national anthem, which included fan participation holding up red, white and blue cards, the Packers kept the crowd into it with scores on their first three possessions.