GLENDALE, Ariz. — Few moved very fast, no one flattened a quarterback and there were no bone-jarring hits in the gentle, friendly version of football played at the Pro Bowl Sunday.
Even in a game dominated by offense, J.J. Watt was the star.
The Texans defensive end a intercepted pass, recovered a fumble and led the crowd in dances during commercial breaks.
Team Irvin defeated Watt and Team Carter, 33-28, but the score is never important in the NFL’s all-star game. Everyone seemed to have a good time, particularly Watt, the game’s defensive MVP.
Other memorable moments came from Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who dunked over the crossbar twice after touchdown catches — this time with no penalty, and Giants rookie Odell Beckham Jr. who made a diving grab at midfield.
Graham’s second touchdown, on a 1-yard, fourth-down pass from Matt Ryan, was the winning touchdown with 3:10 to play.
Greg Olsen and Emmanuel Sanders also each caught a pair of touchdown passes. Andrew Luck was nearly perfect in his short time on the field, completing 9 of 10 for 119 yards and two scores. Matthew Stafford threw for 316 yards and two touchdown and was the offensive MVP.
The Pro Bowl took a one-year hiatus from Hawaii to be played in the desert to coincide with the big game. A sellout crowd of 63,225 watched at University of Phoenix Stadium as the teams moved up and down the field, often without much resistance.
If the players missed the beach, they wouldn’t let on.
“It’s been fantastic,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said. “The turnout here at the stadium is just like an NFL game.”
Romo knew this wasn’t a real NFL game.
“It’s a blast,” Stafford said. “To able to play with the best in the world is a whole lot of fun, and everybody is such good people, too. I am out here having a good time.”
The NFL scrapped the AFC vs. NFC format last year in favor of having two big-name former players draft players four days before the game. This year, the honor went to wide receivers Michael Irvin and Cris Carter.
There were teammates playing against teammates.
When Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson made a pretty fingertip touchdown catch from Drew Brees for Team Carter. He celebrated with his Packers teammate Clay Matthews, who was playing for the other team.
Beckham dove to the ground and gathered in Stafford’s long pass just as the ball was about to hit the ground. When Graham caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Stafford, he soared to dunk the ball over crossbar. The New Orleans tight end was fined $30,000 when he did that twice, and was penalized both times, in a preseason game. There was no penalty on Sunday.
“I really wanted to catch one here because this is I guess the only place I can dunk without a flag,” Graham said. “But you know, the league called down and told me not to hang on it, so I didn’t.”
The goal posts were narrowed to from 18.6 feet to 14 feet on all kicks, not just on extra points, as had been previously announced. The extra points also were moved back to make it a 33-yard kick.
The skinny posts claimed an unlikely victim when Adam Vinatieri missed two attempts. The 42-year-old Colts kicker hasn’t missed an extra point in real games in five years. He also missed a 38-yard field goal.
Another rule was no blitzing. Denver’s Von Miller violated that one and, on the next play after the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Luck threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to his Indianapolis teammate, T.Y. Hilton.
“It’s very special, the chemistry that we have,” Hilton said.
Winners earned $55,000 for their appearance, while players on the losing team took home $28,000.
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