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Rodgers throws 3 early TDs, Packers take 35-27 lead over Saints after 3rd quarter
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) ' Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes and rookie Randall Cobb tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return, giving the Green Bay Packers a 35-27 lead over the New Orleans Saints after three quarters on Thursday night.
It was a high-scoring beginning to the NFL season, and the Packers got off to a fast start in their title defense.
Rodgers threw three first-quarter TD passes ' finding Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Cobb as Green Bay's offense picked up where it left off after a 31-25 win over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
The Saints cut the Packers lead to 28-20 on John Kasay's 38-yard field goal before Cobb's return. He avoided one tackle and broke through four other defenders for Green Bay's first kick return for a score in 11 years.
Drew Brees and New Orleans answered when he found Devery Henderson for a 29-yard touchdown that made it 35-27 heading into the fourth.
Trailing 21-10 early in the second quarter, New Orleans got its own special teams boost when Darren Sproles returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown. Sproles turned his back on the crowd, pointing emphatically to his name plate as Reggie Bush's replacement while a smattering of "Who Dat" chants could be heard in the overwhelmingly partisan Packers crowd.
Green Bay took a 28-17 halftime lead by using the run, and James 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, was 21 of 29 for 257 yards heading into the fourth quarter to continue his strong string of performances 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 with Rodgers hitting Nelson for a 36-yard gain to set up a back-shoulder toss to Jennings for a 7-yard touchdown. After a Saints turnover, Rodgers found Nelson for a 3-yard pass that made it 14-0 and Rodgers connected with Cobb for a 32-yard score to give Green Bay a 21-7 lead.
Brees threw an early touchdown to Robert Meachem and the 41-year-old Kasay, who is filling in for Garrett Hartley, made a 30-yarder in the second quarter. Brees was 21 of 31 with 269 yards through three quarters.
The Saints were 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 was out with an injured groin and 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.