Players defend Pro Bowl after blowout
HONOLULU— After a week in Hawaii and a blowout game, the NFL’s all-stars are defending the Pro Bowl as a worthy reward for top players who don’t make the Super Bowl.
“I hope we keep it here and keep it here for a long time,” Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph said after winning Pro Bowl MVP in a 62-35 NFC win yesterday.
“That was the big emphasis this week, making sure that we were competitive and I think we showed that,” he remarked.
The shenanigans were limited. The teams scored plenty of points. Yet the results were familiar—another ho-hum Pro Bowl.
Now the future of the game depends on how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sees it.
“That’s for him to decide,” said Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
“I thought it was a good, competitive game.”
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson got the crowd pumped up in the second half with some nifty scrambles and three passing touchdowns.
There also was Houston’s sack-happy defensive end J.J. Watt going out for a couple of passes as a wide receiver, and retiring Green Bay centre Jeff Saturday snapping to two Mannings on opposite teams.
But while the NFC appeared unstoppable on offence, with nearly each player putting up fantasy-worthy lines in limited play, the AFC had five turnovers and scored most of its points well after the game no longer was competitive.
“Guys were competing, guys wanted to win, and guys want to keep the game here,” Rudolph stressed.
“That was the point before the game,” he noted. “We want to keep this game rolling for future Pro Bowlers.”
Watt, who had 20.5 sacks for Houston this season, lined up as a wide receiver on the AFC’s third play from scrimmage but missed a pass from Peyton Manning.
He was targeted one more time, but didn’t make a catch.
He later showed a television camera a bloody left pinkie, joking with NBC broadcasters that it was proof the players were trying.
“Hey, Commish, we’re playing hard,” Watt said as he showed his finger.
Watt said after the game that he wanted to stay in even as things got lopsided.
“I’m sure some guys thought about [letting up] but I’m not going to sit out,” Watt noted.
“I like to play football, it’s fun, so I just tried to enjoy it.”
Goodell has said the Pro Bowl won’t be played again if play didn’t improve this year. Last year, fans in Hawaii booed as lineman clearly were not trying.
On one play in that game, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen did a barrel roll to switch positions with a teammate.
If players were coasting this time around, it was less obvious. The AFC just played poorly. And fans didn’t boo much—the stands were relatively empty even though the game sold enough tickets to lift a local television blackout.
The game was trending on Twitter in the U.S. early on, but quickly gave way to the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the WWE Royal Rumble.
Saturday, retiring at the end of this season, played for both teams, though he came representing the NFC.
He lined up on one play for the AFC to snap the ball one last time to Manning, his longtime former Colts’ teammate.
Saturday said it meant a lot to him that the Broncos’ quarterback, whom Saturday called a true friend, orchestrated the stunt.
“He’s got a little more pull than I got,” Saturday quipped.
“He got it all set up and timed up for me, so it was really nice of him to do that.”
Saturday played 13 seasons in Indianapolis, all with Manning—except 2011, when Manning was out with a neck injury.
Saturday then played later in the game for the NFC, snapping to Peyton’s brother, Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning.
Even as the NFC piled up touchdowns, the game struggled for memorable moments after Saturday’s momentary switch.
In the second quarter, referee Ed Hochuli drew cheers when announcing a pass interference penalty on Denver cornerback Champ Bailey in the second quarter—the first flag of the game.
“Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl,” Hochuli said, drawing laughs and loud cheers.