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.”
The NFL wanted a better Pro Bowl. And it got it.
Criticized in recent years for players not giving full effort and for the games getting too high-scoring and too different from the regular product we see each Sunday, this year’s Pro Bowl was a different story.
Whether it was the unconferenced format, which pitted regular-season teammates against each other for the first time, or the competitive draft from alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, or maybe just the threat from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last year that the players needed to pick it up or the game could be discontinued, the 2014 Pro Bowl was a lot more entertaining.
In the end, Team Rice defeated Team Sanders 22-21 with a late touchdown from DeMarco Murray with just 41 seconds to play. A two-point conversion run Carolina’s Mike Tolbert gave Team Rice the lead. A 67-yard field goal attempt by Baltimore’s Justin Tucker fell short, giving Rice the win.
Eagles QB Nick Foles was named Offensive MVP and Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson took home the Defensive MVP honors.
The Dallas Cowboys originally had only two players – Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant – voted into the game. But in the last two weeks, three players were added as alternates. The Cowboys had a total five on the field tonight.
Here’s a quick look how each player fared in the game.
Dez Bryant – Playing in his first Pro Bowl, the receiver wasn’t a huge factor for Team Sanders. He had two catches for 12 yards but did have a chance to score in the third quarter but dropped a fourth-down pass right at the goal line.
Jason Witten – For most of the game, Witten was a non-factor but he did have two catches – his only two – in the final minute of the game as Team Sanders drove for the win. Although he did start, he gave way to Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron, who ultimately caught the game-winning score late in the fourth. Witten has now played in nine Pro Bowls in his 11-year career.
Tyron Smith – The first-time Pro Bowler started for Team Rice but played the entire game at right tackle after playing the season on the left side. Smith had a false start penalty early in the game but clearly had some issues blocking Houston’s J.J. Watt and a stiff pass-rush by Team Sanders, which had four sacks and four turnovers. Smith played most of the game without much substitution.
Jason Hatcher – Also a starter for Team Rice, Hatcher had a fourth-quarter sack on Eagles QB Nick Foles on third down. Hatcher also had an offside penalty but played fairly well, coming up with a huge QB pressure in the final seconds in what could be his final game with a Cowboys helmet.
DeMarco Murray – The third tailback for Team Rice, Murray wasn’t much of a factor until the final drive. Murray caught a dump-off pass from Alex Smith and scurried in for 20-yard touchdown to pull his team within one point. A two-point conversion by Tolbert on the next play gave Team Rice the win. Murray had four carries for 25 yards and four catches for 37 yards.
DeMarco Murray scores game winning TD in 2014 NFL Pro Bowl (WATCH)
Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray scores for Team Rice with less than a minute to play, and alumni captain Jerry Rice makes the bold decision to go for the game winning 2-point conversion.
Team Jerry Rice
Team Deion Sanders
Team Jerry Rice | Team Deion Sanders
|Total First Downs||24||Total First Downs||14|
|By Rushing||7||By Rushing||4|
|By Passing||16||By Passing||10|
|By Penalty||By Penalty|
|Third Down Efficiency||6/16 – 37%||Third Down Efficiency||2/11 – 18%|
|Fourth Down Efficiency||2/4 – 50%||Fourth Down Efficiency||1/2 – 50%|
|Total Net Yards||384||Total Net Yards||285|
|Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks)||78||Total Rushing/Passing Plays (includes Sacks)||56|
|Average Gain per Offensive Play||4.9||Average Gain per Offensive Play||5.1|
|Net Yards Rushing||114||Net Yards Rushing||62|
|Total Rushing Plays||20||Total Rushing Plays||17|
|Average Gain per Rushing Play||5.7||Average Gain per Rushing Play||3.6|
|Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards)||1–1||Tackled for a Loss (Number-Yards)||1–3|
|Net Yards Passing||270||Net Yards Passing||223|
|Times Sacked (Number-Yards)||4 – 21||Times Sacked (Number-Yards)||5 – 41|
|Gross Yards Passing||291||Gross Yards Passing||264|
|Pass Comp-Att-Int||26 – 54 – 4||Pass Comp-Att-Int||20 – 34 – 2|
|Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks)||4.7||Average Gain per Passing Play (includes Sacks)||5.7|
|Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks)||0 – 0 – 0||Kickoffs (Number-In End Zone-Touchbacks)||0 – 0 – 0|
|Punts (Number-Average)||4 – 49.0||Punts (Number-Average)||5 – 49.2|
|Net Punting Average||47.0||Net Punting Average||38.0|
|FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked||0 – 0||FGs Blocked – PATs Blocked||0 – 0|
|Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs)||56||Total Return Yardage (excludes Kickoffs)||109|
|Punt Returns (Number-Yards)||5 – 56||Punt Returns (Number-Yards)||3 – 8|
|Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards)||0 – 0||Kickoff Returns (Number-Yards)||0 – 0|
|Interception Returns (Number-Yards)||2 – 0||Interception Returns (Number-Yards)||4 – 101|
|Penalties (Number-Yards)||4 – 20||Penalties (Number-Yards)||2 – 10|
|Fumbles (Number-Lost)||2 – 1||Fumbles (Number-Lost)||3 – 1|
|Kickoff Returns||0||Kickoff Returns||0|
|Fumble Returns||0||Fumble Returns||0|
|Punt Returns||0||Punt Returns||0|
|Extra Points (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3||Extra Points (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3|
|Kicking (Made-Attempted)||2 – 2||Kicking (Made-Attempted)||3 – 3|
|Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted)||1 – 1||Two Point Conversions (Made-Attempted)||0 – 0|
|Field Goals (Made-Attempted)||0 – 1||Field Goals (Made-Attempted)||0 – 2|
|Red Zone Efficiency||2/4 – 50%||Red Zone Efficiency||2/3 – 66%|
|Goal To Go Efficiency||2/3 – 66%||Goal To Go Efficiency||1/2 – 50%|
|Final Score||22||Final Score||21|
|Time of Possession||32:47||Time of Possession||27:13|
NFL Pro Bowl 2014
The NFL is starting over with the Pro Bowl.
The NFL originally announced radical changes to the format of the All-Star game back in May, eliminating the traditional AFC vs. NFC matchup in favor of a fantasy draft-like roster selection.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as alumni captains, choosing two rosters with the help of two NFL.com fantasy users.
The NFL and NFLPA distributed a joint press release, explaining that the changes are designed to make the Pro Bowl “the ultimate fan-friendly celebration of the game.”
“As players, we wanted to keep the Pro Bowl to honor excellence in individual performance and connect with the fans in a different environment,” said NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth, who proposed the changes to the game. “To do that, I worked with a group of players to map out new ideas.”
Under the new format, players will be selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players.
Players will be assigned to teams through the Pro Bowl Draft, which will air (tonight) on Wednesday, Jan. 22, on NFL Network.
The 2014 Pro Bowl will be held on Sunday, Jan. 26, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu.
- Game within the Game: A two-minute warning will be added to the first and third quarters and the ball will change hands after each quarter. This will increase the opportunities for quarterbacks to direct “two-minute drills,” which are especially exciting for fans.
- No Kickoffs: The coin toss will determine which team is awarded possession first. The ball will be placed on the 25-yard line at the start of each quarter and after scoring plays.
- Rosters: The rosters will continue to consist of 43 players per squad. The kick return specialist will be replaced by an additional defensive back.
- Cover Two and Press Coverage: The defense will be permitted to play “cover two” and “press” coverage. In previous years, only “man” coverage was permitted, except for goal-line situations.
- Stopping of the Game Clock: Beginning at the two-minute mark of every quarter, if the offense does not gain at least one yard, the clock will stop as if the play were an incomplete pass. This rule will make the team with the ball attempt to gain yardage toward the end of each quarter.
- Game Timing: The game clock will start after an incomplete pass on the signal of the referee, except inside the last two minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half.
- Play Clock: A 35-second/25-second play clock will be adopted instead of the typical 40-second/25-second clock.
- Sacks: The game clock will not stop on quarterback sacks outside of the final two minutes of the game. Currently, the game clock stops in these situations outside of two minutes of the second and fourth quarters.
Check out the new NFL Pro Bowl page for much more detailed information about the NFL’s All-Star game!
COWBOYS HEADED TO HAWAII: DeMarco Murray becomes fifth Dallas Cowboy added to 2014 NFL Pro Bowl roster
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys initially had just two Pro Bowlers heading to Hawaii. Now they have five.
The latest addition is yet another first-timer as running back DeMarco Murray has been added, replacing San Francisco’s Frank Gore, who was injured in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Seahawks.
Murray makes his first Pro Bowl trip of his three-year career after enjoying his first 1,000-yard season. He rushed for 1,124 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns during the 2013 season. He also scored six of his nine touchdowns in the second half of the season.
Murray becomes the first Cowboys running back since Marion Barber in 2007 to make the Pro Bowl and just the second since Emmitt Smith’s eighth and final selection in 1999.
Murray joins a running back group of Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and LeSean McCoy, who were all initially selected. Adrian Peterson was also picked but won’t play because of injury and Marshawn Lynch is out because of the Super Bowl. Eddie Lacy and Alfred Morris have been added as replacements for those two but Murray now replaces Gore.
Originally, the Cowboys only had two Pro Bowl selections – Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith, a pair of first-round picks who are going for the first time. Last week, Jason Hatcher was added to the roster as a replaced for Baltimore’s injured nose tackle Haloti Ngata. And on Sunday, Jason Witten made it to the Pro Bowl after Denver’s Julius Thomas had to be replaced after the Broncos advanced to the Super Bowl.
The first ever “Unconferenced” Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, airing on NBC at 6 p.m. (CST). The first-ever NFL Pro Bowl draft will be nationally-televised on NFL Network Wednesday, Jan. 22 (7 p.m. CST) as alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will pick the teams.
RELATED: TE Jason Witten fourth Dallas Cowboy added to 2014 NFL Pro Bowl
MOBILE, Ala. – Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten will now be heading to his ninth career Pro Bowl.
Witten was added to the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl on Sunday to replace Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, who’s now Super Bowl bound.
Wide receiver Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith were initially the only two players selected to the Pro Bowl from the Dallas Cowboys, but Jason Hatcher (and now Witten) were additions this week. Witten’s ninth Pro Bowl appearance ties him with Randy White for the fourth-most in team history, behind only Bob Lilly, Larry Allen and Mel Renfro.
Jason Witten started all 16 games this year for the Cowboys and played in all 16 games for the 10th straight season. He finished with 73 catches for 851 yards and eight touchdowns, which marked his second-highest touchdown total of his career behind only the nine he scored in 2010.
He finished the 2013 season placing fifth in catches and yards and tied for fourth in touchdowns among all tight ends around the league.
Witten made the Pro Bowl every year from 2004-2010 and made the Pro Bowl after the 2012 season, in which he recorded a career-high 110 catches. All the other three Cowboys will be going to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
TOP NFL FREE AGENTS 2014: Pro Bowl bound Dallas Cowboys DT Jason Hatcher among NFL’s top 25 Free Agents
As the NFL’s 2013-2014 season comes to a close, let’s take a first glance at the 2014 NFL free-agent market.
It’s early in the offseason process. Franchise tags have yet to be discussed. There’s still time for clubs to lock up young stars to long-term contracts. Many of these names will be removed from consideration by the time the upcoming 2014 NFL free agents list is compiled in early March.
This list places the highest value on ascendant players with little or no reason to expect a dropoff in production over the next few years.
Here’s the Top-25 NFL Free Agents for 2014:
1. Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints tight end
2. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers defensive end
3. Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins linebacker
4. Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills safety
5. T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns safety
6. Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans cornerback
7. Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs left tackle
8. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end
9. Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders defensive end
10. Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins cornerback
11. Eugene Monroe, Baltimore Ravens left tackle
12. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis Colts cornerback
13. Linval Joseph, New York Giants defensive tackle
14. Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle
15. Jared Veldheer, Oakland Raiders left tackle
16. Aqib Talib, New England Patriots cornerback
17. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver Broncos cornerback
18. Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns center
19. Eric Decker, Denver Broncos wide receiver
20. Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks defensive end
21. B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers defensive tackle
22. Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers cornerback
23. Walter Thurmond, Seattle Seahawks cornerback
24. Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers linebacker
25. Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle
RELATED: Jason Hatcher added to NFL’s Pro Bowl 2013-2014 Roster
IRVING, Texas – And now the Dallas Cowboys have three Pro Bowlers. And once again, it’s a first-timer headed to Hawaii.
Jason Hatcher has been added to the Pro Bowl roster, replacing the spot of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata, who will not play for injury reasons.
Hatcher led all NFL defensive tackles in sacks last year with a career-high 11 as just edged out Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey with 10.5.
Hatcher had the most sacks by a Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle since Randy White had 12.5 in 1984.
He was the first player other than DeMarcus Ware to have the team’s outright sack title since 2004 when Greg Ellis had nine. Hatcher’s 11 sacks was the first double-digit finish other than Ware since Tony Tolbert’s 12 in 1996.
Along with his team-high in sacks, Hatcher was second on the team with 33 quarterback pressures, just behind Ware’s 35. Hatcher and George Selvie tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss and his 48 tackles ranked eighth on the defense.
Hatcher, who is an unrestricted free agent, has openly said he will test the free-agent market come March, so it’s very likely this game in Hawaii could be his last in a Dallas Cowboys helmet. However, he also said he thought he wouldn’t return to the Cowboys in 2011, but signed a three-year deal to remain in Dallas.
IRVING, Texas – Two Dallas Cowboys players will be heading to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
Bryant recorded his second straight 1,000-yard receiving year this season, and it’s also his second straight season with 12 receiving touchdowns.
He’s hauled in 85 catches for 1,134 yards through 15 games and would need seven catches and 248 yards in the finale to tie his numbers from last season. But Bryant’s been more efficient and rarely seemed out of sync or out place with Tony Romo’s passes.
His 12 receiving touchdowns this season tie him with Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas for most in the NFL among wide receivers. Tight end Jimmy Graham leads all players with 15 receiving touchdowns.
Bryant’s recorded three games this season with at least 140 receiving yards and four games with at least 100 receiving yards. He’s also got a touchdown in each of his last four games.
Smith began as a right tackle before switching over to the left side last season, and his play dramatically increased toward the middle portion of the 2013 season, turning quickly into the elite player the Dallas Cowboys envisioned when they used their first-round pick on him in 2011.
This is the first time since DeMarcus Ware’s rookie season he hasn’t been named to the Pro Bowl. Jason Witten, who’s made eight Pro Bowls, including every year from 2004-2010 and another last season, also didn’t make it this year.
This marks the first time since 2010 the Dallas Cowboys have sent a receiver to the Pro Bowl, when Miles Austin went. It also marks the first time since 2010 the Cowboys took an offensive lineman to the Pro Bowl, when they sent Andre Gurode. It’s the first time since 2008, when Flozell Adams made the Pro Bowl, that a Cowboys offensive tackle was selected.
Unlike previous years, this year’s Pro Bowl offers something much different. There’s no more AFC lined up against the NFC. The all-stars will be drafted without conferences, but it will be back in Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2014, at Aloha Stadium.
The Pro Bowl players were determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. Each group’s vote counted a third toward determining the Pro Bowl selections announced today. Two additional “need” players will be chosen by each head coach and must be long snappers.
The “unconferenced” Pro Bowl player draft will be held Jan. 22 in Hawaii. Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will be team captains. Once again, players competing in the Super Bowl won’t be involved and more Cowboys could be asked to join the event as alternates in the future.
The Chiefs and 49ers sent a league-best eight players each to the Pro Bowl. Dallas and Philadelphia, which sent LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters, were the only two NFC East teams to send two players to the Pro Bowl. In all, 27 teams had at least one player selected and 22 had multiple players selected.
Rayfield Wright, Fort Valley State
1967, seventh round (No. 182 overall)
Wright’s career as an offensive lineman landed him in the Hall of Fame. It’s an honor that would have been impossible to predict from his start.
The Cowboys bounced Wright between tight end, tackle and defensive end during his first three years in the league before establishing him at right tackle. Once there he became a fixture with six consecutive Pro Bowl selections. Wright was named All-Pro four times and earned a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s.
Larry Allen, Sonoma State
1994, second round (No. 46 overall)
He is the second Cowboys offensive lineman to earn a bust in Canton and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this year.
Allen is arguably the most dominant lineman of his era. His 10 Pro Bowl appearances with the Cowboys is the most of any offensive player in club history. Allen was named to the Pro Bowl as a right guard, a left tackle and a left guard, something no one else has done.
Honorable mention: Herb Scott (13th round, 1975), Mark Stepnoski (third round, 1989), Erick Williams (third round, 1991), Flozell Adams (second round, 1998).
Howard Richards, Missouri
1981, first round (No. 26 overall)
Until Tyron Smith with the ninth overall pick was selected in 2011, this was the last time the Cowboys have used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Richards was primarily a backup for five of his six seasons with the Cowboys. He started 16 games during a disappointing, injury-prone career.
Robert Shaw, Tennessee
1979, first round (No. 27 overall)
This is the first time the Cowboys used a first round pick on an offensive lineman. Shaw began his career backing up John Fitzgerald at center and showed promise. But two months deep into his third season, a season that saw the only three starts of his career, Shaw blew out his right knee in a loss to San Francisco. He tried to come back for 20 months but was never able to pass his physical and retired.
IRVING, Texas – Rarely do the Dallas Cowboys enter a draft with a glaring need at any one position. And by the time it rolls around this late-April, who knows how badly the Cowboys will need a safety.
But as it stands currently, the team looks rather thin at the position, where they are counting on two players who were injured most of last year.
In fact, the Cowboys have entered several drafts in recent history with a need at safety.
So it begs the question: Just who are the best safeties in Cowboys history. It’s a rather top-heavy list, but the staff of DallasCowboys.com came up with the Top 10 with a couple of honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention: The two that just missed the list had tons of potential. One developed into a better safety after he left and the other had injuries that plagued his career. Randy Hughes was supposed to be the next Cliff Harris and was on his way. He was a fearless hitter with range. But constant shoulder injuries cut Hughes’ career short, as he played just six years with the Cowboys (1975-80). As for Brock Marion, a seventh-round pick who started alongside Darren Woodson, he went to the Dolphins and became a Pro Bowler.
10. Bill Bates – It’s hard to leave off Bates on any list, particularly one featuring top safeties. That was Bates’ position his entire career although he thrived more as a special teams player. Still, Bates started 47 games, mostly from 1986-88. He did have a game-clinching interception in the 1991 playoffs to give Jimmy Johnson his first postseason win.
9. Mike Gaechter – A seven-year starter for the Cowboys in the 1960s, Gaechter had 21 career interceptions, good for 13th in club history. His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown was the longest in franchise history for nearly 40 years before Bryan McCann (101 yards) topped that in 2010.
8. James Washington – If you can make the list for basically one game, Washington has done that. Sure he was a starter on Super Bowl teams, but not all of them. He was a role player at times, but his performance in Super Bowl XXVIII was one of the best in franchise history. He was involved in three turnovers, including a game-tying fumble return to open the second half. He also had an interception and forced a fumble in the Cowboys’ 30-13 win over the Bills.
7. Michael Downs– He was the other rookie free agent who started for the Cowboys in 1981. Everson Walls got the attention with his 11 interceptions as a rookie, but Downs also made his mark early on. He started for about eight seasons on some bad teams, but still led the team in picks three times and is tied for fifth in franchise history with 34 interceptions.
6. Roy Williams –When the Cowboys drafted him eighth overall in 2002, they anticipated having the best safety in franchise history when it was all said and done. As it turned out, Williams did make five Pro Bowls and had quite a start to his career. But it turned sour toward the end as he struggled in coverage and seemingly lost his confidence. Still, early on, Williams was a catalytic player who had a presence in the secondary. Continue reading →
ETERNAL CONFIDENENCE: From Pro Bowl, Jason Witten displays optimism for the 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys
Last year, it was Jason Witten who told reporters before the start of training camp that it “can’t be the same’ ol story” in 2012.
In reality, it was the sequel to 2011, about as similar as Hangover and Hangover 2. And now the Cowboys must figure out how to cure this hangover as well this year and not go down another 8-8 road where they miss the playoffs on the final week of the season.
At the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, a game that seemed to have better quality of play this year although it was still a scoring-fest, Witten wasn’t a big factor in the NFC’s 62-35 win. He had two catches for 12 yards as one of two Cowboys in the game. Anthony Spencer, playing most as a linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and wasn’t allowed to blitz, had a pair of tackles. Actually, Witten’s backup in the game, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph, won MVP honors with five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown.
But after the game, Witten was asked about the Cowboys’ chances of turning things around this year. And like always, the eternal optimist sounded confident – not only that things can get better next year, but the right people are in place.
In one 30-second answer on the field, Witten referenced the three people who have been taken the most criticism in the last year and last few seasons as well.
“Well it’s any time you don’t make the playoffs, it’s challenging,” Witten said. “I think we have a great head coach in Jason Garrett, and obviously great ownership – the Jones family – you trust they’re going to get you back to the top. It’s a commitment. It’s a tough league. But we have the right people – great leader in Tony (Romo). Hopefully we’ll bounce back and be better in 2013.”
At least Witten shares the same sentiments as most fans and critics of this team. The simple reference “bounce back” after an 8-8 season suggests 2012 wasn’t just a year that had some good and some bad. It’s a year where the Cowboys simply failed to get to their destination – once again.
He calls Romo a “great leader” but it’s Witten, and that attitude, is something these Cowboys need to adopt and follow.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell threatened to cancel future Pro Bowls if the players didn’t pick up the effort. He got his wish — for the most part.
The NFC won 62-35 and the game didn’t have any blatant episodes of guys loafing like the 2012 version. Part of that can be attributed to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who spoke to the entire group of participants (see article below) and called the last two years “unacceptable.”
“Peyton said some things and guys took it personal,” Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson said during a sideline interview.
New York Giants star receiver Victor Cruz agreed.
“It was a little more high intensity than in years’ past,” he said. “It really did feel like a real game out there. People were hitting. It wasn’t touch football; guys were laying some licks. It had the energy of a real game. My body feels like it just went through a real game.”
Peterson’s teammate, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, was named Pro Bowl MVP after catching five balls for 122 yards during a second-quarter stretch when the NFC pulled away.
There were a few questionable moments. Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil pulled up when he had a blindside shot to sack Saints quarterback Drew Brees at one point. But there were also hustle moments. Saints punter Thomas Morstead chased down Chiefs safety Eric Berry from behind and was carried into the end zone during an interception return after a botched field-goal attempt. There were even a few solid hits.
Goodell got what he wanted. Defenders actually tackled. No one was injured. There was a reverse on a kick return and a trick onside kick. Watt even got bloody early in the game.
“It definitely was better, especially compared to last few years,” said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who played in a record-tying 12th Pro Bowl. “That’s all they (NFL decision-makers) really want to see. It felt more like a real game. No one let people run past them.”
The overall feeling was that Sunday was a marked improvement from recent Pro Bowls.
Kareem Copeland | NFL.com Around the League Writer
Left photo: Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (97) pose with hula girls U’ilani LaBoy (right) and Aureana Tseu (left) at NFC media day. Right: Dallas Cowboys mascot Rowdy poses with Polynesian dancers at the 2013 Pro Bowl tailgate party.
AFC free safety Jairus Byrd of the Buffalo Bills (31) runs with the ball after recovering a fumble by Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. Byrd was tackled by Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.
Left photo: Tight end Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys (82) watches during the NFC practice. Right: Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (93) arrives at NFC practice. Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Whitney Isleib of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders performs at the 2013 Pro Bowl tailgate party at Richardson Field in Honolulu, Hawaii
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer was named today to the Pro Bowl roster, replacing Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, who will not participate because of an injury. It marks the first Pro Bowl appearance for Spencer, whose presence will give the team three Pro Bowl honorees this season.
Spencer’s selection also will up the financial ante as he heads toward free agency following a season when he led the team in tackles (95) and set a career high in sacks (11). The Cowboys must decide if they will put the franchise tag on Spencer for a second consecutive season, sign him to a long-term extension or let him go in free agency.
Spencer is joined on the NFC roster by tight end Jason Witten and outsider linebacker DeMarcus Ware, although Ware will not play in the Jan. 27 contest in Hawaii because of post-season surgery.