LAS VEGAS (AP) — Justin Herbert hit Mark Andrews with two touchdown passes, leading the AFC to a 41-35 victory over the NFC on Sunday in the return of the Pro Bowl.
New England rookie Mac Jones passed for 112 yards, threw a touchdown pass and did a memorable rendition of the Griddy dance in the Las Vegas debut of the NFL’s annual All-Star game, which came back from a one-year hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Herbert won the offensive MVP award after passing for 98 yards and finding the Baltimore tight end for two TDs in the first half of the Los Angeles Chargers star’s first Pro Bowl appearance.
Maxx Crosby of the hometown Las Vegas Raiders won the defensive MVP award with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Kyler Murray passed for 160 yards and three touchdowns for the NFC. The Arizona star made it close when he hit Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook for a TD with 2:36 to play, trimming the AFC’s lead to six points.
Jones then got stopped on a scramble at the 2-minute warning, but kept running 55 more yards to the end zone and celebrated alone with the Griddy, pioneered by Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson. After learning his celebration was premature, Jones hit Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris for a first down on the next play to allow the AFC to run out the clock.
The AFC players took home $80,000 apiece, while the NFC got $40,000.
The Pro Bowl moved to Las Vegas for the first time after a four-year run in Orlando, and a less-than-capacity crowd at Allegiant Stadium mostly cheered for the Raiders and booed their AFC West rivals. Otherwise there was a decidedly mellow vibe on the field from the moment Indianapolis’ Darius Leonard returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown on the opening possession.
Both teams treated the Pro Bowl with all the seriousness it deserves: Tackling to the ground was rare while both teams effectively played two-hand touch, and neither defense put up more than a perfunctory pass rush.
The informal rules to prevent excessive violence were also quite flexible: Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield returned an interception 63 yards for a score to end the first quarter, but only after running through a pretty clear two-hand touch from Las Vegas’ Hunter Renfrow.
Renfrow got the day’s biggest single cheer from his hometown fans when he made a tip-toe TD grab in the back of the end zone on a pass from Jones in the third quarter.
Not everything was touchy-feely: Dallas rookie sensation Micah Parsons ended the first half by chasing down Patrick Mahomes from behind on a rollout and shoving the superstar quarterback to the turf. They shook hands when Mahomes got up.
In another attempt at violence-reducing innovation, the Pro Bowl was played with no kickoffs. The game started with the NFC offense on its own 15 in the so-called “spot and choose” method of eliminating dangerous kickoffs from football. The winner of the opening coin toss has the option to choose where to spot the ball on the field or whether to start the game with the ball.
Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs got to go against his little brother, Dallas cornerback Trevon Diggs, for the first time as professionals. Stefon even switched to defensive back when Trevon came in as a receiver for the NFC in the first half, and Stefon got credit for a pass breakup in the end zone after a good bit of hand-fighting between the brothers.
The players seemed to enjoy their week of light football and heavy fun-having in Las Vegas, which knows how to throw a party. Vegas hosted the Pro Bowl for the first time on the same weekend as its first NHL All-Star Game, a pay-per-boxing show starring welterweight Keith Thurman and a UFC show behind closed doors at the Apex gym.
Tom Brady ended his NFL career by not participating in the final 13 Pro Bowls for which he was selected, including this season. The seven-time champion quarterback hasn’t played in a Pro Bowl since 2005.