The NFL Pro Bowl looked like an actual football game for the first time in a while.
With 41 seconds left, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, followed by Carolina Panthers RB Mike Tolbert bulldozing his way into the end zone for a two-point conversion.
Team Rice took home a 22-21 victory over Team Sanders after Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker missed a 67-yard field goal as time expired. Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles won the Offensive MVP, while Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson won the Defensive MVP for the game.
One of the game's biggest plays came early, as Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck connected with Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson on a 36-yard flee flicker that resulted in the game's first score. Jackson was ecstatic and ran over to his mother, who was sitting in the stands, and gave her the football and a kiss on the cheek.
DeSean Jackson giving his mom a kiss after his touchdown! pic.twitter.com/JqaugoEGiW— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) January 27, 2014
Former NFL Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb gave Foles and Jackson a shout out following the game.
Congrats to Nick Foles today for a great performance today in the Pro Bowl. Philly was well represented today. Great job fellas— Donovan McNabb (@donovanjmcnabb) January 27, 2014
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson payed homage to his coach by doing Sanders' "Prime Time" Dance.
Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson voiced his opinions on Sanders' coaching decisions and the MVP award during the game.
Got me playin gunner out here...never played this before #teamsanders— cordarrelle (@ceeflashpee84) January 27, 2014
If I get one tackle, I gotta be MVP #ProBowl— cordarrelle (@ceeflashpee84) January 27, 2014
The real story of the game, however, was how many people watched it.
Richard Deitsch tweeted that the Pro Bowl was watched by 11.4 million people, which was more than the amount of viewers who watched this season's MLB All-Star Game. The game was also the most-watched all-star game out of the major sports.
Tweets from MLB writers and players, however, suggested otherwise.
Pro Bowl ratings almost identical to the All-Star Game ratings, but I'm guessing we won't be hearing about decline and fall of NFL.(rightly)— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 27, 2014
They could play the Pro Bowl on the moon and it would still be an embarrassment to the NFL.— Jeremy Barfield (@BarfieldRage) January 27, 2014
oh, did they play the pro bowl already?— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 27, 2014
The combined margin of victory in the last three Pro Bowls was 59. This year it was one point. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pondered the idea of cancelling the Pro Bowl after last season, but he told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning (h/t Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio) how he truly felt following Sunday's game.
"You have to admit it was very competitive," he said. "Exciting. Fun. I think the players played much harder. I believe it was a very, very positive step. I salute the players."
Close games are always interesting to watch. The late-drive, touchdown and two-point conversion gave fans something to be interested in, but was this Pro Bowl something to build on?
The league finally allowed defensive backs to play bump-and-run coverage on WRs, which they hadn't for a while. The rule change kept the game close, forcing receivers to fight for their coverage. Offensive linemen were still not able to fully block their opponents, which led to sacks and non-called intentional groundings.
The league's focus is to give the fans something enjoyable to watch without injuring their stars; however, players such as Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd suffered an undisclosed injury early in the first quarter. Eagles RB LeSean McCoy suffered an ankle injury. Both did not return to the game.
Players are still getting hurt, despite the NFL's efforts to protect its stars.
If the league wants more popularity, it needs to go back and watch former Pro Bowls, where players hit each other hard, played their hearts out and had fun along the way. Those were the best Pro Bowls to watch.
The NFL has a lot of work to do, but this year's Pro Bowl could be the start of a new era.