Sure, the draft process could be quickened and some other minor tweaks could be made to keep that aspect of determining the two teams surprising. Overall, the league has to be pleased with the general enhancement to the game's quality and should build on this foundation for the future.
MMQB.com's Peter King weighed in on the uptick in effort from all the players involved:
What has gotten into these football players? They're really trying in the Pro Bowl.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) January 27, 2014
One of the most fascinating aspects of the game this time around was that teammates could square off against each other due to the draft process.
Two notable collisions occurred: Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson laid out running back Jamaal Charles, and Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward flipped the league's leading receiver in Josh Gordon.
Carolina Panthers versatile back Mike Tolbert didn't hold back in plowing over his teammate Luke Kuechly, either:
While that has to make fans of those franchises a bit uneasy, it did accentuate the competitiveness that was on display. Defense was an optional concept in recent years; This was different.
Johnson couldn't help but bask in the glory of Honolulu's Aloha Stadium and embrace the challenge of going up against one of the most electric backs in the game in Charles—even though they're usually on the same team:
Have to give my fellow teammate some friendly fire. LOL! I can't lie, it felt pretty good! #probowl— Derrick Johnson (@superdj56) January 27, 2014
Loved competing against the best back in the league who I just happened to be teammates with. @jcharles25— Derrick Johnson (@superdj56) January 27, 2014
It was Tolbert who plowed in for the game-winning two-point conversion with just 41 seconds left, which set up a thrilling finish to a formerly anticlimactic contest. His celebration also drew some laughter from his usual teammate, QB Cam Newton, per NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala:
Mike Tolbert just did the Superman celebration and fellow Panther Cam Newton, over on the losing sideline, started laughing. #ProBowl— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) January 27, 2014
That is part of what makes these prospective future rivalries all the more exciting.
The key is to avoid hurting each other, but the fact that major injuries were averted on Sunday is a testament to how playing harder and acting on instinct is actually a better way to go about the pro Bowl business as opposed to playing not to get hurt.
ESPN Stats & Info highlighted how close the outcome was—the first one-point margin in over three decades:
This was the 1st Pro Bowl decided by 1 point since the 1982 Pro Bowl— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 27, 2014
After the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos square off in Super Bowl XLVIII, the focus will be on the offseason, and for many teams, the upcoming draft will be the primary point of discussion.
Which Pro Bowl format do you prefer?
The rule changes worked well, too. Two-minute warnings added to the first and third quarters, and change of possession at the end of each, helped keep scoring down and made strategies more aggressive.
Not having kickoffs is offset by those adjustments, and it also helps protect players against massive special teams collisions.
One critique is that the draft stretched across two days and dragged on multiple hour TV broadcasts. That could be trimmed down and the selections could be hastened, which would create even more excitement as captains and brain trusts scramble to figure out which players to pick.
It would also generate more hype in the week leading up to the game. The press could inquire about draft strategies and the increased preparation that would be required.
The previous three years in particular saw a big drop-off with the 2013 Pro Bowl score seeing the NFC claim victory 62-35. It might as well have been a seven-on-seven drill or a practice walkthrough.
A far more physical feel defined the action in Hawaii, an atmosphere that had fostered a lax attitude and minimal intensity from some of the most intense, impressive athletes on the planet. The NFL should continue pushing this progressive Pro Bowl platform to continue the all-star game's revitalization after 2014's stupendous effort.