The NFC runs away from the AFC with the help of seven takeaways
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 31, 2011
In the final minutes of what would end up as the NFC's 55-41 victory over the AFC in yesterday's Pro Bowl, four spectators hopped the guard rail and ran onto the Aloha Stadium FieldTurf.
Security guards and police officers caught three of them. AFC wide receiver Dwayne Bowe of the Kansas City Chiefs ended the distraction with a crushing tackle of the fourth trespasser.
"It really shows that offensive guys can tackle, so give us a chance," Bowe said, smiling.
Bowe paused, and then added: "That was a crazy game."
Indeed, the 2011 Pro Bowl — in its return to Halawa after a side trip to South Florida — was as confounding as entertaining.
There were 91 total points in a meeting that NFC cornerback Brent Grimes said was a "cool game for the defense" — an argument bolstered by his team's seven takeaways, five of which were parlayed into touchdowns.
The NFC built a 42-0 lead in the second quarter, then held off the AFC's creative comeback, punctuated by the game's final score.
In the final minute, the NFC kept taking knees in an attempt to force the game's conclusion. The AFC kept calling timeouts.
The AFC got the ball back on downs, then got innovative. Matt Cassel threw to Bowe, who lateraled to Montell Owens, who then lateraled to center Alex Mack at the NFC 40. Mack rumbled along the left sideline, dodging safety Antrel Rolle at the 5, and found the end zone for the first time since he was a San Marcos (Calif.) High student.
"I didn't want to hit your legs," Rolle told Mack.
Mack said: "I was trying to make a move there, but he called my bluff. That was not a play. That was purely shoot-from-the-hip."
"That was hilarious," Bowe said. "I always see that on TV, but to be a part of that, that's what makes this game fun. You get to do stuff you can't do in the regular season."
To be sure, this was not a usually played NFL game. Pro Bowl rules restrict offenses from over-loading formations. The defensive handbook is twice as long: No blitzing. No stunting. No elaborate zone defenses.
"It's always nice when you know the coverages on defense," AFC quarterback Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers said. "And the pass rush isn't coming so hard."
But Grimes of the Atlanta Falcons said the format is suited for defensive backs.
"We know they're going to pass," Grimes said.
Of the AFC's first 18 passes, four were intercepted, with three leading to touchdowns. On one of the completions, to inside receiver Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, NFC cornerback DeAngelo Hall wrested away the football. Hall then picked up the fumble and scooted 34 yards for a touchdown.
A self-described "ball hog," Hall, who was named the game's most valuable player, said: "I love touchdowns. Whenever I can get a touchdown, it's nice."
He then pointed to the upper level, where there were banners of previous Pro Bowl MVPs.
"It's going to be nice to see my name up there next year," Hall said.
Of the fumble, Welker said: "I was trying to keep possession of it, but he did a good job of getting it out."
Then again, the NFC owned the first half. Fullback Ovie Mughelli, who had 13 carries during the regular season, scored the opening touchdown on a 1-yard run.
Later, NFC tight end Tony Gonzalez, playing in his 11th Pro Bowl, caught a 4-yard scoring pass. It was his sixth Pro Bowl touchdown, an all-star game career record.
"It never gets old," Gonzalez said. "I love scoring touchdowns."
The AFC finally broke through on Jamaal Charles' 8-yard run with 1:54 left before the intermission. In the AFC locker room at halftime, Bowe recalled: "We had a nice pep talk. Bill (Belichick, the head coach) said: 'Let's be competitive.' The guys came out, buckled up and tuned in. We tried to come back."
Rivers' 16-yard pass to Reggie Wayne closed the AFC to 42-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears fielded the ball, then tried to fake a reverse. The ball slipped from Hester's grip, and was picked up by AFC specialist Owens, who ran 8 yards into the end zone.
"I tried to fake it, and hide it a little bit, but it hit my hip when I tried to bring it in," Hester said.
The AFC made several other pushes, but the NFC sealed it when linebacker Jon Beason swooped in for an interception and then ran 49 yards for a touchdown with 3:33 to play. The extra point made it 55-28.
"Man to man on the tight end, I had to make a play," Beason said. "I told the AFC quarterbacks before the game: 'Hey, man, I'm always open. If you throw it to me, I promise I'll catch it.' So they did."
Rivers threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. AFC backup quarterback Peyton Manning was 2-for-5 for 12 yards. The NFC's Grimes tipped one of Manning's passes, juggled it, then secured the football for the interception.
"No real schemes," Grimes said. "Just go out there and play football."
Manning said: "It was a crazy game. Tipped balls. A lot of things not really going our way. We made a run at the end, but we got behind too big and too early. ... But we had some fun. Anytime a lineman (Mack) scores a touchdown, it's fun for everybody."