Here we are again: January 31 and one more Pro Bowl in the books. Even though the NFL is the nation's biggest draw as far as professional sports go, the NFL Pro Bowl is quite possibly the nation's worst showcase of top-tier talent in all of professional sports.
The 2011 game was no different, as the NFC basically dominated the AFC in a game that no one really cared about after halftime. That being said, there were some highs scattered amidst the lows that abounded Sunday night. Here's the good, the bad and the just plain revolting from the game itself and beyond.
Larry Fitzgerald can't be happy in Arizona, and with a no trade clause in his contract, he has a fair amount of leverage in the 2011 offseason as far as potential suitors go. His only catch in the Pro Bowl showcased exactly why any team in need of wide receiver help would be foolish to not at least try to woo said receiver away from sunny Arizona.
Fitzgerald caught a 25-yard jump ball in the end zone for a TD against one of the AFC's best defensive backs, and he made it look easy. This is nothing new for the All-Pro wideout, but it was a reminder to all of us that whatever team he ends up playing for in 2011 will be lucky to have him.
With such supreme talent all over the field, it's hard to fathom how we could be subjected to the amount of poorly executed routine plays that we were in this game. There were drops, interceptions and fumbles galore, especially on the AFC side of the ball.
Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd dropped two seemingly sure catches on the same series of downs, Dwayne Bowe dropped a would-be TD pass from Matt Cassel in the fourth quarter and the picks we'll get into shortly. The lack of proper execution was atrocious.
Even though the AFC had Arian Foster, and the NFC had Michael Turner, the backup running backs were probably the brightest shining stars in the entire game.
Jamaal Charles had 72 yards and a TD on 10 carries for the AFC, most of which came on one drive at the end of the first half of the game. He had a long carry of 32 yards, proving his worthiness of being in the Pro Bowl.
For the NFC, it was Adrian Peterson who ran all over the competition with 80 yards and a TD on 14 carries. He carved up the AFC defense as if he were playing the NFC North division pushover Detroit Lions.
These two backs out-shined the rest of the offense in a game that is billed as having no defense played. My hats off to them.
For the AFC, the combination of Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel had five picks to only four TD passes, and they competed only 24 of 43 passes. Rivers played the best game of all of them, but he also threw the first two picks.
The NFC QBs didn't fair much better with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Michael Vick combining for a mere 245 yards and two TD passes with one pick. Despite the 105 total points scored by the two teams, there was a definite lack of fireworks in this game.
DeAngelo Hall wasn't even supposed to play in this game, but a late scratch made him a 2011 Pro Bowler. He didn't disappoint.
Hall had six tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and the recovery of that fumble that resulted in a 34-yard TD return. If ever there was a deserving MVP for this game, Hall was it. He epitomized the theme in this one: defense wins the game.
Above all, this game is supposed to be fun for the players and fans alike. No play epitomized this better than the last score of the game, when after catching a simple pass over the middle, Dwayne Bowe pitched the ball back to Jaguars running back Montel Ellis, who lateraled the ball to Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack, who then trucked his way into the end zone after running roughly 30 yards with the ball for the TD.
Mack was winded, to say the least, but the smile on his face after scoring was symbolic of what this game is supposed to be all about. It's a play that Mack will probably remember for the rest of his life, and one that anyone who watched the game long enough to see it won't soon forget.
Two of the league's best "backyard" style QBs—Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers—are playing this Sunday on the NFL's biggest stage, but if the Pro Bowl was played the week after the Super Bowl like it used to be, these two QBs may have been available for the biggest backyard style football game in the NFL as well.
I realize that neither QB was originally selected to play in the Pro Bowl, but neither was Matt Cassel in the AFC, and he got in due to an injury to Tom Brady. That spot could have easily gone to Big Ben, and Rodgers probably could have found his way into the NFC roster if he so desired.
On top of that, Troy Polamalu had his spot filled by Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who didn't appear to be quite ready to play with the big boys, even though I believe he was deserving of the spot on the roster.
I'm not saying that all these players would have played, but it would be nice—from a fan's perspective—for them to at least have the option.
Somewhere right now, Roger Goodell is happy with the way the game went down. No one got hurt because no one got hit. This is what we're getting closer and closer to seeing every week the more Goodell gets involved in the inner workings of the game. This is the kind of game that Goodell himself could suit up for. Since he's already impacting the game so much, is it such a bad idea?
This is more of a hypothetical, but I thought it warranted mentioning. Roger Goodell's vision of the NFL would look a lot like what we saw on Sunday night: no hard hits, no trash talking and an overall lack of emotion altogether. I'm just saying...
Did the NFC force six turnovers, did the AFC give the ball away six times or was it a combination of both? I watched the entire game, and from what I saw, the AFC looked like they were in Hawaii for a vacation while the NFC came to play some football.
The AFC players just never looked to be on the same page. Colts WR Reggie Wayne and Chiefs QB Matt Cassel had what appeared to be a miscommunication that resulted in a pick, PeytonManning tried to force a pass to Wayne that was picked, Philip Rivers had a lazy-looking pass deflected at the line of scrimmage that resulted in a pick, Patriots WR Wes Welker appeared to give up on a play that resulted in the ball being stripped from his grasp for a turnover...
I'm not saying that the AFC didn't care, but they sure didn't seem too broken up about this lopsided game to me, with the exception of possibly Rivers. I know that the game doesn't mean anything, and that no one wants to risk injury, but you'd think that pride would become a factor at some point...
I know it's a meaningless game, and to try to take anything significant from it would be a bit of a stretch, but it is worth mentioning that the NFC has won two of the last three Super Bowls and these things tend to go in cycles.
The AFC dominance in the big game may be coming to an end, and if the Packers can pull off a win against the Steelers in next week's Super Bowl XLV matchup, that will be the first time the NFC has won three out of four since the NFC won 13 straight Super Bowls from the 1984 season until the 1996 season.
The Packers could strike a blow against not only the Steelers, but the entire AFC with a win, showing that the NFC is not only the flashy pass-heavy conference that looks good on paper, but they can also get down and dirty on the field with the best of the best no matter what style of football they play in the AFC.
The NFC Pro Bowlers showed that last night, shutting down the AFC offense and running the ball to close things out. This conference is for real, and last night may have been just the tip of the iceberg.
The Pro Bowl will probably never be the kind of all star game that the other pro sports in the US have—the NBA doesn't hit, the NHL is picking teams, and the MLB has home field in the world series on the line—but it's still nice to watch for those fans who's team may not have much else to look forward to.
I'm sure there were Chiefs, Chargers, and Vikings fans just to name a few who were excited to get one more glimpse of their favorite helmet wearing warriors step onto the gridiron for one last time before August of 2011. The game isn't perfect, but it's still football. That's going to have to be good enough.
So to any Packers and Steelers fans out there, good luck next week. To all other fans, better luck next year. This was the last hurrah for the 2010 season. I hope you had a blast, and no matter who we root for, let's enjoy a fantastic Super Bowl XLV. See you all next week.