NFL 2010-2011 Pro Bowl Recap

At 4pm PST today, the NFL 2010 Season brought us the 2011 Pro Bowl from Honolulu, Hawaii.

Here is the recap.

AFC vs NFC–What makes the Pro Bowl unique is that the players take risks on the field that would not be taken in an ordinary game. Devon Hester proved this by returning the opening kickoff 9 yards deep in the end zone just in front of the back end line. The NFC began at their own 10. Michael Vick was the starting quarterback. In a game meant to be high scoring, the NFC went 3 and out and punted. The AFC took over at their own 10, with Philip Rivers starting.

Rivers hit Brandon Lloyd for 15 yards. Arriun Foster gained 8 on the ground, 4 and 5 on passes from Rivers. On 3rd and 5, Rivers hit Bailey for 8. On the next play the AFC tried a flea-flicker. What made it interesting was that the fan knew it was coming before the ball was snapped. All of the quarterbacks were miked up in the huddle throughout the game, so we heard Rivers call it in the huddle. The play went for an incomplete pass. On 4th and 3 from the NFC 41, AFC Coach Bill Bellichick decided to go for it. Rivers threw a low pass that was dropped, and the NFC took over on downs.

Vick found Michael Turner for 11 inbetween Turner gaining 3 and 4 on the ground. Vick then threw to Miles Austin. Despite dating a Kardashian and being the last player to be added to the Pro Bowl, Austin caught it for 8 yards and 3rd and 6 to keep the drive going. On 3rd and 10 from the Atlanta 33, Vick found Roddy White for 23 yards. Vick found Tony Gonzalez just short of the goal line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, fullback Mughelli crashed in to have the NFC up 7-0 with 6 minutes left in the opening quarter. Mughelli only had 13 carries all season, but fullbacks are normally known for being great blockers.

Mariani returned the ensuing kickoff just shy of midfield and the AFC was back in business. Yet one play from scrimmage resulted in a deflected pass that was intercepted by London Fletcher. He returned it to the AFC 43. On 2nd and 8, Vick hit Devon Hester for 10 yards. Then Adrian Peterson took over, rumbling for 17 yards and then for the 14 yard touchdown. The NFC led 14-0 with 2 minutes left in the opening quarter.

Mariana had another strong kickoff return as the AFC took over at their own 40. Rivers went for the bomb, and was intercepted in the end zone by Deangelo Hall. Hall decided to run it out in the great tradition of Deion Sanders, holding the ball up in one hand. The NFC took over at their own 24 as the first quarter ended.

Matt Ryan came in for the NFC at quarterback and immediately went deep and completed a pass to Devon McCourty. McCourty plays defense for the AFC. From the AFC 30, Peyton Manning came in for the AFC. Manning was intercepted by Brent Grimes, who like McCourty was playing in his first Pro Bowl. The NFC took over at their own 42.

On 2nd and 8, Ryan hit teammate White for 10. A double reverse to Devon Hester went for 19 yards. Ryan then found White again for 20 more to set up 1st and goal at the 7. It felt like an Atlanta Falcons game. Mike Smith, who looks like an average non-descript white guy named Mike Smith, is the coach of the Falcons and the NFC coach in this game. He had 9 of his players in this game, and Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez for the 4 yard touchdown as the NFC led 21-0 less than 90 seconds into the second quarter. Both conferences had won this game 20 times coming into this game, but matchup 41 was turning into a mismatch.

Bill Bellichick also had some of his own players in the game, including Wes Welker.  Welker caught a pass, and thought the play was over. Yet no whistle had been blown, and as Welker was going to the ground, Deangelo Hall ripped the ball out of his hands. Hall returned the fumble 34 yards for a score as the NFC led 28-0. There was no replay in this game, which was way out of hand with  10 1/2 minutes still left in the second quarter. The levity of this game saw a sideline interview where Tony Gonzalez rubbed announcer Jay Glazer’s head for good luck.

From the 20, the AFC quickly went 3 and out. This was starting to resembling the lean years of the Oakland Raiders, since the only person on the AFC showing up was punter Shane Lechler. The NFC took over at their own 44. Turner gained 7 and Ryan hit Hall for 15. Turner gained another 9, and Ryan went deep to Larry Fitzgerald for a 25 yard touchdown. The NFC led 35-0 with 9 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter. The Pro Bowl is often derided as a meaningless game, but at least it is sometimes competitive. Barring a miracle comeback, the 2011 game was not helping sell the game itself.

Payton Manning told Tony Siragusa that the key to an AFC comeback would be his switching to the hurry up offense. Yet the only hurrying up came when Manning put on a baseball cap and third string quarterback Matt Cassel came in much earlier than expected. The AFC took over at their own 24. Cassel was intercepted by Antoine Winfield, who returned it 19 yards to the AFC 29. Matt Ryan just kept handing the ball off, as garbage time came a couple quarters early, Peterson ran for 9, 3, and negative 4. Stephen Jackson then ran for the 21 yard touchdown as the NFC led 42-0 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the half.

For those wondering why Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger were not playing, one theory is that nobody on the Packers or Steelers was good enough to play in the Pro Bowl. An alternate theory is that the NFL, which gets virtually everything right, continued the boneheaded idea of having the Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl. One can only hope that the Super Bowl is better than the 2011 Pro Bowl.

The AFC took over at their own 33, and brought a steady dose of Jamal Charles. He ran for a pair of 6 yard gains and then ripped off a 32 yarder. This was a Chiefs drive, as Charles was followed with Cassel hitting Dwayne Bowe for 10 yards. Charles then rambled 5 more and then the final 8 as the AFC was finally on the board. They trailed 42-7 at the half. Given that the Pro Bowl is supposed to be about showmanship and entertainment, it seemed odd that the half ended with a thud. From the AFC 42, Mike Smith decided to run the ball rather than have his quarterback throw the Hail Mary.

The AFC began the second half at their own 31. In an even stranger development, original starter Philip Rivers was back in at quarterback. Given that Bellichick traded away Cassel, perhaps he was on to something. Of course, Tom Brady missed this game with an injury, the only reason Cassel was playing. Ironically, Cassel became more famous than the team janitor only because Brady went down with injury in 2008. If this happens a third time, Cassel could be arrested for sabotaging Brady.

Anyway, Rivers found Reggie Wayne for a 36 yard gain. On 4th and 9 from the NFC 16, going for it was an easy decision. Rivers hit Wayne for the touchdown and the AFC was within 42-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Devon Hester tried to hand off on a reverse to Deangelo Hall. The exchange was fumbled, and returned 8 yards for a touchdown by Owens. 21 points in a 7 minute span had the AFC within 42-21 with a full 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

At this point the NFC just wanted to get the game over with before anybody got hurt.  Al Michaels was not yet ready to dust off his “Do you believe in Miracles?” speech. The NFC took over at their own 28. Ryan hit White for gains of 6 and 10. Turner gained 18. Ryan connected with Calvin Johnson for 11, and on 4th and 8 from the AFC 23,  David Akers came in for a 41 yard field goal. Akers became the all time leading scorer in the Pro Bowl as the NFC led 45-21.

The AFC took over at their own 27. Chris Johnson gained 9 and 3. Mariani ran for 11 to midfield. On 3rd and 12, Rivers hit Bowe for 17. Brandon Lloyd dropped a pair of passes on the drive, including a gift touchdown in the end zone. On 4th and 3 from the NFC 28, Rivers went deep to Mercedes Lewis for the score. With 90 seconds left in the third quarter, the AFC had clawed back to within 45-28.

Devon Hester returned the kickoff to the NFC 22. As the third quarter ended, Matty Ice came out and Drew Brees came in to try and put the game on ice. Brees led the NFC to a 3rd and 1 at the AFC 17. Peterson lost a yard. On 4th and 2, Akers came in for a field goal from 36 yards out. He doinked it off the upright no good. Rivers led the AFC from their own 26 to a 4th and 7 at the NFC 44. A completion to Charles lost one yard and the NFC took over.

Brees hit Stephen Jackson for 11 yards. On 2nd and 9 from the AFC 42, the comical nature of the Pro Bowl came from the sidelines. Reporter Jay Glazer went up to Mike Smith and begged to call one play. Smith kept saying no but finally relented. Glazer wanted a pass to Calvin Johnson, who was not in the game. Glazer got the play in to Drew Brees while Johnson stayed on the sidelines. A game with 0 penalties called almost had a delay of game, but Brees got the snap off just in time and fired complete 18 yards to Jason Witten. Glazer imitated Rex Ryan by slamming down is play calling sheet, since he wanted a deeper pass route. Akers would kick a 38 yard field goal to put the NFC up 48-28 with 8 minutes left in regulation.

Mariani had another great kickoff return to the AFC 41. Now Matt Cassel was back in the game. On 3rd and 5 Cassel was intercepted again, as John Beason raced 49 yards for the score. 2-14 teams normally do not send players to the Pro Bowl, but Beason made the most of his opportunity as Cassel was intercepted by the best player on the worst team. With 3 1/2 minutes to go, the NFC had finally sealed it leading 55-28. The suspense would be if the NFC could break 60 or if this would be an ordinary blowout.

If the AFC were winning, Mariani would have been an MVP candidate, as he took yet another kickoff to the AFC 44. He had nearly 200 return yards on the day. The first penalty on the day was unsportsmanlike conduct on the NFC for illegal defense, which only exists in the Pro Bowl and the NBA. Terry Bradshaw added some great color commentary regarding himself. The # 1 overall pick in the 1970 draft said that if he were drafted today he would only be a 3rd or 4th round draft pick. Brian Billick pointed out that this shows how drafting is an inexact science. Bradshaw said, “I gotta take a Wonderlic test, are you kidding me? If he’s open throw it to him. I failed my MENSA test!”

Cassel would throw a 7 yard touchdown pass to Montell Owens at the 2 minute warning to have the AFC back within 20 points. While the fans wanted even more entertainment, Mike Smith was prepared to end the second half the way he did the first. There would be no try for 60 points. The 90 combined points was actually not the record, as the 2004 game was won 55-52 when the AFC blew a gigantic lead and Mike Vanderjagt missed the tying field goal on the final play.

An onsides kick was recovered by Adrian Peterson, and the NFC took over at the AFC 29. Brees simply knelt down to end it. Deangelo Hall, was not even originally selected to this game, was named the MVP. Yet despite the kneeldowns, a few seconds still remained. Only in the Pro Bowl would the following sequence happen. The hook and ladder should have been over at midfield when the defender had the receiver. Yet the defender refused to tackle him, figuring the game was over. The receiver lateraled the ball to Alex Mack, who is a center. “Big Man With Football” rumbled down the sideline and shook off another halfhearted block. Mack scored to complete the 67 yard touchdown. Yes, a center scored a touchdown on a 67 yard play.

Matt Cassel even came in on the onsides kick team with seconds left. This is the Pro Bowl. The NFC recovered, and one final kneel-down finally ended things. The AFC outscored the NFC 42-13 down the stretch, but the 42-0 early deficit was too much to overcome. At least it was a fun game.

The only really great news about this lopsided game is that the bittersweet feeling after it ended was not there. Normally it ends the season, and still should. Yet now we go to Dallas, where Pittsburgh and Green Bay play for the Super Bowl trophy. Super Bowl 45 is 7 days away, and the 2011 Pro Bowl is now in the books. By 21-20, the NFC leads the series. 55-42 NFC


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