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Despite NFC blowout, players say Pro Bowl was hard-hitting

The SportsXchange

HONOLULU -- The score wasn't close, but the action was competitive.

That was the assessment of several players after the rain stayed away long enough for the NFC to put the hurt on its AFC counterparts in the Pro Bowl.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph caught five passes for 122 yards and a touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw three third-quarter touchdown passes as the NFC pounded the AFC 62-35 Sunday at Aloha Stadium.

With the island of Oahu under a flood watch that became a flash flood warning midway through the second quarter, the field stayed dry enough for the NFC to set a record in points while winning for the fourth time in the past six games.

The NFC rolled up 478 total yards in the third-highest-scoring Pro Bowl ever. Three of the four highest-scoring games have come in the past three years.

Rudolph, who last played at Aloha Stadium in the 2008 Hawaii Bowl with Notre Dame, is the first tight end named MVP since San Diego's Kellen Winslow in 1982.

"It was fun to come out here and compete," said Rudolph, selected to the game as a replacement for the Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez. "That was definitely the big emphasis this year, making sure we were competitive, and I think we showed that."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said this week that the Pro Bowl needed to improve if the players wanted to continue to play it annually.

The NFL is expected to make an announcement on the future of the game in April.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz broke Randy Moss' record set in 2000 with 10 receptions in the game, catching eight in the first half. The NFC scored 14 points in the final two minutes of the second quarter to take a 31-14 lead into the break.

Cruz, who finished with 96 receiving yards, said his body felt as if he had just played a regular-season game.

"Guys were really in tune, guys were hitting a little bit, and it wasn't just like touch football out there," Cruz said.

Wilson completed eight of 10 passes for 98 yards and the three touchdowns as the NFC built a 52-21 lead through three quarters.

"Guys were making plays, and it was a great way to end the season," Wilson said. "Everyone was playing fast-paced, and it seemed like a real game to me."

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning finished 16-for-23 for 191 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Brother Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos was 6-for-12 for 43 yards with one touchdown.

Trailing by 17 at the break, the AFC's problems only worsened in the second half as Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was intercepted on the second play by Seattle safety Earl Thomas.

Thomas, playing his second Pro Bowl in three years in the league, played a lot of corner in addition to his regular safety position.

"The game felt a lot more comfortable just from coming back two years in a row, and I definitely wanted to set the tempo," said Thomas, one of six Seahawks in the game. "That's my mentality to take over."

Two rookies combined to increase the NFC's lead to 38-14. Wilson scrambled away from two players and hit Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin for a 28-yard touchdown pass on Wilson's first drive of the game.

Schaub bounced back from his two picks to lead the AFC on a 16-play drive, hitting the Cleveland Browns' Joshua Cribbs for a 4-yard touchdown to make it 38-21.

A 92-yard kickoff return by Seattle's Leon Washington set up Wilson's second touchdown of the game, a 9-yarder to the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald to make it 45-21.

"He keeps making plays, and I don't think my standards are supposed to be lowered because we're playing against the best," NFC starting center Max Unger said of Wilson.

Unger, Wilson's teammate in Seattle, graduated high school from Hawaii Preparatory Academy on Hawaii Island. He was the first local high school graduate selected to the game since Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz in 2007.

The Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck was the fourth quarterback to turn the ball over on his opening drive when he fumbled his first snap from Houston's Chris Myers. That led to Wilson's third touchdown of the quarter, a 5-yard throw to Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson to make it 52-21.

Luck threw a 4-yard scoring pass to A.J. Green early in the fourth quarter to give all six quarterbacks in the game at least one touchdown throw. Green finished with seven catches for 119 yards. Luck led all quarterbacks with 205 passing yards, finishing 12-for-19 with two touchdowns.

NFC starting quarterback Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings fumbled the opening handoff of the game, and the ball was recovered by New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

The AFC took over on the NFC 7-yard line and threw the ball four straight times, including once to defensive end J.J. Watt, who lined up at receiver. The AFC cashed in after going for it on fourth down, as Peyton Manning hit Green for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 7-0 just 59 seconds into the game.

Brees found his groove on the NFC's second drive, converting two third-down passes before a 36-yard touchdown throw to Jackson to tie the game at 7-all.

After a 48-yard field goal by Minnesota's Blair Walsh gave the NFC a 10-7 lead, the AFC retook the lead on an interception return for a touchdown by Kansas City's Derrick Johnson.

Eli Manning's first drive for the NFC lasted only five plays, as Johnson stepped in front of a short pass intended for Kyle Rudolph and returned it 42 yards to put the AFC in front 14-10.

Like Brees, Eli Manning bounced back on his next drive to lead the NFC to a touchdown. He hooked up with Cruz five times on a 10-play drive, ending with a 9-yard touchdown pass to his Giants teammate to put the NFC back up 17-14.

"We've got each other's timing down, and it showed," Cruz said.

Atlanta's William Moore kept the AFC out of the end zone when he intercepted a pass tipped by Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson with 2:50 remaining in the half. Schaub was the third quarterback who turned the ball over on his first drive.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 1:41 remaining in the half after a defensive pass interference penalty was called in the end zone, extending the drive.

After a sack by the Bears' Julius Peppers forced a three-and-out by the AFC, Eli Manning hooked up with Rudolph for a 3-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the half to give the NFC a 17-point lead.

NOTES: Peyton Manning, Denver's Champ Bailey and Cleveland's Phil Dawson served as captains for the AFC while the Green Bay Packers' Jeff Saturday, the Washington Redskins' London Fletcher and the Bears' Charles Tillman earned the honor for the NFC. Saturday said this week that the Pro Bowl would be the final game of his career. ... NBC broadcaster Al Michaels called his 15th Pro Bowl on Sunday. The starting quarterback for the NFC in his first Pro Bowl in 1980 was Archie Manning. ... Lynch was the leading ball carrier in terms of yardage, finishing with 21 yards on four carries.

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