In a sloppy and half-hearted game, it was the AFC defeating the NFC 20-13 in the 2017 edition of the NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
Once again the critics were right, as the Pro Bowl was a shadow of the kind of game that NFL fans have come to love and respect over the years.
Head coaches Jason Garrett(NFC) and Andy Reid(AFC) did their best to make the game appealing to the announced attendance of 60, 834. Triple reverses, flea-flickers, fake punts, and fake field goals. Every trick play of the respective coach’s playbook was used usually with little to no success. What was effective, was the passing game of the AFC, especially starting quarterback Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs and backup Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals. The two right-handed veterans combined to complete 16 of 20 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.
After a scoreless first quarter, Smith got things rolling for the AFC as he found Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker on a 26 yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead. The NFC answered with an impressive drive of their own. Led by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the NFC marched 71 yards in 11 plays, before Buffalo Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore came up with an interception in the end zone to preserve the touchdown lead.
Just two plays later, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks returned the favor. The seventh year veteran out of Stanford, playing in his fifth straight pro bowl, intercepted Dalton and set up the NFC in AFC territory. The NFC cashed in, as another Seahawk made a big play. Drew Brees found a wide open Doug Baldwin streaking down the left sideline for a 48 yard touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece.
The AFC used a big punt return by Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill to set up their go ahead touchdown. Hill returned a Johnny Hekker(Los Angeles Rams) punt back 38 yards to the NFC 38. Five plays later, Dalton found another Chief, tight end Travis Kelce for the score and a 14-7 lead.
The AFC lead would grow to 20-7 after a couple of Justin Tucker(Baltimore Ravens) field goals, and the NFC would answer with two field goals of their own by Matt Prater(Detroit Lions) to get within a touchdown at 20-13.
Led by quarterback Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins, the NFC looked to be on their way to potential tying score driving into the AFC red zone with just over a minute to play, but linebacker Lorenzo Alexander of the Buffalo Bills picked off a Cousins pass that was off Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham’s hands to preserve the victory.
Effort may have been increased towards the conclusion of the game, but overall, even in a close game, the Pro Bowl lacked the flair that the NFL has become so successful for. Is this the projection they want to give for the game that features the so-called best players in the league?