Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was named MVP of the Pro Bowl (USA Today Sports Images)
With the future of the Pro Bowl in doubt, players for the AFC and NFC competed hard from the get-go, combining for 834 yards of total offense and 97 points as the NFC defeated the AFC 62-35 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu on Sunday.
Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph was named Pro Bowl MVP after catching five passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. Rudolph, who was added as an injury replacement when Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons bowed out, could have had another touchdown, but a pass from Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was instead snared by Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin for a 28-yard touchdown at the start of the third quarter.
Rudolph was not the only player on the NFC who could have walked away with a new car and MVP trophy.
Wilson took over at quarterback in the second half and completed eight of 10 pass attempts for 98 yards and three touchdowns and a had a game-high 13-yard run on a scramble. Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson had six receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz had 10 receptions - the second-most in a Pro Bowl - for 96 yards and a touchdown.
While the game is clearly an offensive showcase, Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had a pair of sacks and Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack and grabbed an interception when he was lined up one-on-one with Houston Texans defensive J.J. Watt, who was playing some wide receiver when the AFC was in the red zone.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green was arguably the top performer on the AFC side, catching seven passes for 119 yards and a game-high three touchdowns, including the game's opening score in the first quarter on a 6-yard pass from Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and two in the fourth quarter from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
According to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, players on the NFC team will receive $50,000, while the AFC's loser share is worth $25,000. Those shares will increase to $53,000 for the winners and $26,000 for the losing team in next year's Super Bowl, should a game take place.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is considering canceling the annual all-star game after boos rained down during the 2012 Pro Bowl as the game started with players going at half speed. Eventually, the competition level increased in last year's game, but the future of the exhibition has remained in doubt.
Watt removed any doubts Goodell may have had about the competition, injuring the index finger on his left hand in the first quarter. Watt held up the bleeding digit during a sideline interview with NBC's Michele Tafoya as proof to the commissioner that the players were playing hard.
"I'm not sure, but I know one thing, you can't say we don't play hard in this game," Watt said of his bloody finger. "Hey commish, we're playing hard."
Despite the increased competition level, room was created for a sentimental moment between former teammates. Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday is retiring after 14 seasons, all but one of which was spent as teammates with Peyton Manning on the Indianapolis Colts. Late in the first quarter, Saturday was allowed to join the AFC squad for one play and one last snap to Manning.
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