HONOLULU — The NFL wanted Pro Bowl drama. The NFL got Pro Bowl drama.
Alex Smith, the final pick in last Wednesday’s Pro Bowl Draft, led Team Rice on the final touchdown drive on a rain-soaked field. Then Jerry Rice and Riverboat Ron Rivera went for two and clinched a 22-21 win over Team Sanders in the first unconferenced Pro Bowl.
This was the best Pro Bowl in a long, long time.
Here’s what else we learned from Sunday’s game (Watch highlight video):
1. Even if the banter was manufactured by the 2014 Pro Bowl Draft, players after the game said they enjoyed the process and the opportunity to play with guys they never had a chance to team with before. It was a theme all week.
2. Teammates hitting each other didn’t seem like a big deal. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson laid the wood on teammate Jamaal Charles early. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward later flipped Josh Gordon to the ground. We never did get that teammate-on-quarterback sack, though.
3. Speaking of quarterback sacks, the defensive lines dominated. The two teams ended up with nine sacks. Early in the contest, we wondered if Sean Payton would call Team Rice’s coach (and division rival) Ron Rivera and ask him to sit Drew Brees. The Saints quarterback was sacked twice and battered often. The QB pressures were a big reason for all the turnovers.
4. J.J. Watt was a beast. Playing next to Ndamukong Suh and later Greg Hardy, Watt was unblockable. With Team Rice double-teaming Watt, Hardy picked up a sack. Don’t think management in Houston didn’t see that and ponder what Jadeveon Clowney would look like next to Watt.
5. The playful teammate trash talk was constant and likely will linger in texts and tweets the next couple days. Mike Tolbert’s SuperCam mock-celebration after his two-point conversion was emblematic. “I told Cam I was going to mess with him if I got in the end zone, so I had to,” Tolbert said laughing.
6. The lack of continuity on offense clearly hurt the product. Not only were there fewer teammate combinations due to the draft, the new format also lessened the practice time by one day. There were a multitude of miscommunications between quarterback and receiver.
7. Speaking of teammates, Drew Brees hit Jimmy Graham for an early touchdown pass. On the play, Brent Grimes (all 5-foot-10 of him) ended up on the 6-foot-7 tight end. That, friends, is a mismatch.
8. What was going through Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe’s mind as he rumbled toward the end zone after his second-quarter interception? “I was thinking of a touchdown celebration dance,” Poe said after the game. “I didn’t get there, but next time I will though.”