HONOLULU — Sack-happy defensive end J.J. Watt went out for a couple of passes as a wide receiver, retiring center Jeff Saturday snapped to two Mannings on opposite teams and the NFC blew past the AFC 62-35 in a Pro Bowl that could be the league’s last.
Whether the NFL’s all-star game will return or not is a question league officials will ponder the next few months. And the players gave plenty to consider on both sides of the argument Sunday.
The NFC was unstoppable on offense, with nearly each player putting up fantasy-worthy lines in limited play. The AFC, meanwhile, had five turnovers and scored most of its points well after the game was no longer competitive.
Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph was voted the game’s MVP with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
Watt, who had 20 1/2 sacks for Houston, lined up as a wide receiver on the AFC’s third play from scrimmage, but missed a pass from Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. He was targeted one more time, but didn’t make a catch.
He later showed a television camera a bloody left pinkie, joking with NBC telecasters that the players were trying.
“Hey, Commish, we’re playing hard,” Watt said as he showed his bloodied finger.
Roger Goodell has said the Pro Bowl won’t be played again if play didn’t improve this year. Last year, fans in Hawaii booed as lineman were clearly not trying. On one play in that game, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen did a barrel roll to switch positions with a teammate.
If players were coasting this time around, it was less obvious. The AFC just played poorly. And fans didn’t boo much — the stands were relatively empty even though the game sold enough tickets to lift a local television blackout.
Saturday, the Green Bay center retiring at the end of this season, played for both teams though he came representing the NFC. He lined up on one play for the AFC to snap the ball one last time to Manning, his longtime former Colts teammate. Saturday played 13 seasons in Indianapolis, all with Manning — except 2011, when Manning was out with a neck injury. Saturday then played later in the game for the NFC, snapping to Peyton’s brother, Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Even as the NFC piled up touchdowns, the game struggled for memorable moments after Saturday’s momentary switch.
In the second quarter, referee Ed Hochuli drew cheers when announcing a pass interference penalty on Denver cornerback Champ Bailey in the second quarter — the first flag of the game.
“Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl,” Hochuli said, drawing laughs and loud cheers.
Giants wideout Victor Cruz broke a Pro Bowl record with 10 catches. Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson had 91 yards and two touchdowns. Eli Manning threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns, while Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson had three touchdown passes in the second half.
Cincinnati’s A.J. Green had three TD catches for the AFC. NFL officials said earlier in the week that the league wants to decide the future of the Pro Bowl by the time next season’s schedule is released in April.