By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers notched his maiden playoff victory Sunday in what could be a long postseason run for the prolific quarterback who inherited the reins from Brett Favre in a sensational shift in 2008.
Blessed with a rifle-arm and quick feet to elude pass rushers, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in Green Bay's 21-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles that set up a Saturday clash with top-seeded Atlanta.
The Packers' belief in Rodgers led them to shun their one-time Super Bowl hero Favre when he changed his mind about retiring three seasons ago and wanted to return to Green Bay.
Some observers felt Rodgers needed postseason success to once and for all dispel Favre's prodigious shadow but Packers coach Mike McCarthy bristled when asked if he considered the victory a milestone win for his young quarterback.
"Milestone? That's what you talk about. We don't look at it that way," he told reporters. "We're just getting started. This is the first round.
"Aaron's got a lot of football left in front of him. He's going to be playing for a long time."
Rodgers justified their confidence with consistency and verve, tossing 28, 30 and 28 touchdown passes in his first three campaigns as a starter.
"I'm obviously biased, (but) Aaron Rodgers is probably as good as any out-of-pocket quarterback there is in football today," McCarthy said. "His ability to play in the pocket, trusting his footwork, the ability to come out of the pocket to buy time, that's Aaron's strength.
"He has the arm strength to make all of the throws ... and now with his experience, he's a special player."
Last season he made a dazzling post-season debut despite being on the losing side of a shootout with the Arizona Cardinals.
The former first-round draft pick out of California threw for four touchdowns and 422 yards in a 51-45 overtime defeat that was the NFL's highest scoring playoff game ever.
That performance helped make Green Bay a popular choice as Super Bowl contender this year, but injuries slowed them early on and they needed a late charge to claim a wildcard berth.
With starting running Ryan Grant lost to injury, the Packers relied almost exclusively on a passing attack, ranking fifth in the NFL through the air and just 24th in rushing.
However, they received a jolt of help on the ground against the Eagles from an unlikely source - unheralded rookie James Starks, who missed most of the season with a hamstring injury.
Rodgers happily shared the ball with Starks, a sixth-round draft pick out of Buffalo, who ran for 123 yards.
"I thought that we were going to have a few more passing attempts, but the way that James (Starks) was running, we just stuck with it," he said.
Rodgers shrugged when asked about winning his first playoff game. "In all my time being a football fan I have never seen one player win a game all by himself," he said "It is a good team win for us."
Rodgers sees no reason to stop now. "We had a lot of effort and a lot of confidence and hopefully we can carry that over into another game," he said.
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)