NFC Reigns Supreme

The NFC All-Stars defeated the AFC all-stars, 30-21 in the final Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii in front of a crowd of 49,958.

The AFC team drew first blood as they began at their own four-yard line thanks to a Jeff Feagles 59-yard punt. Peyton Manning used a variety of targets to drive the team out of the shadows of their own goalposts and into the end zone as he hit Tony Gonzalez with a 19-yard touchdown pass on a corner route. Gonzalez caught two passes on the drive for 41 yards, as the AFC went 96 yards in 10 plays in just 4:51.

The NFC found their way onto the scoreboard on the first possession of the second period as Drew Brees his team down the field, hitting a variety of receivers including Steve Smith and Jason Witten. The NFC also received some tough running from Adrian Peterson and Clinton Portis en route to a 37-yard John Carney field goal to cut the AFC lead to 7-3. The drive lasted 5:47 and covered 69 yards on 12 plays.

The AFC tried to answer the NFC's drive, and did for the most part. Leon Washington returned the kickoff to the AFC 40-yard line, and Peyton Manning converted on several third and fourth downs to give his AFC team a first and goal from the three. The NFC defense then held firm and on fourth and goal from inside the one, Manning threw incomplete to Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall.

"I had a good first series but I would've liked to have scored on that last series," Peyton Manning said. "You get down to the one-yard line and you really would have liked to get it into the end zone. We didn't quite connect."

Owen Daniels TD (Marco Garcia/AP)
With one last chance before halftime, the AFC subbed in their second-unit and the results were immediate. Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels was the star of the drive as he made a fantastic diving catch for 21 yards to put the AFC into the red zone, and on the proceeding play, quarterback Kerry Collins found Daniels wide open in the end zone to put the AFC up 14-3. The efficient drive covered 53 yards on just six plays and took only 49 seconds.

"Owen made a really nice catch on a seam route that put us down in there tight, and we called his number again and he did a great job of beating the linebacker and I just put it right in there for him," Titans quarterback Kerry Collins said.

With just seconds remaining in the half, the NFC team wasn't finished as Tampa Bay return man Clifton Smith brought the kickoff all the way back near midfield. Drew Brees then found Larry Fitzgerald on a post pattern for a 48-yard touchdown to end the half with a bang and to pull the NFC to within 14-10. The drive took just 28 seconds as the NFC squad went 55 yards on three plays.

"There were nine seconds left, and we were thinking about getting into field goal range," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We didn't have any timeouts so if we got caught in bounds we'd be in trouble. We just tried to get the ball to Larry (Fitzgerald) downfield and when you have a guy like that, he's such a special talent, just as good as anybody in the league at going up and getting the ball. I just tried to buy some time so he could push on the corner and I threw it down there in the end zone and you just know that he can jump up and make a play."

Cortland Finnegan, who was beat on the play, had this to say about Fitzgerald—

"He's a big, strong physical kid, and you have to bring your ‘A' game every time when playing against him."

For a game that doesn't mean anything, the first half was played hard and the teams put on a good show. Drew Brees led the NFC as he completed 11 of 19 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. Peyton Manning played most of the first half for the AFC and completed 12 of 17 throws for 154 yards and a touchdown. Kerry Collins went 5 for 6 for 52 yards and a touchdown during his only drive in the first half.

"Everybody's got a lot of pride, everybody wants to play well," Peyton Manning said when asked if winning or losing the Pro Bowl was important. Everybody wants to win, everybody is representing their respective teams. But I'm proud to be over here in Hawaii."

The AFC offense seemed to stall and sputter in the second half as they had issues moving the ball against the NFC offense. Kerry Collins accounted for two third period turnovers, the second being most critical as Jared Allen sacked Collins, and then proceeded to strip and recover the football at the AFC 10-yard line. Adrian Peterson scored on the first play on a 10-yard touchdown run off tackle to give the NFC their first lead at 17-14.

With new quarterback Jay Cutler at the helm, the AFC reclaimed the lead as Cutler led the American Conference down the field on a 13-play, 89 yard drive that was capped by a Le'Ron McClain touchdown run from five yards out. McClain took a direct snap as quarterback Jay Cutler went into motion and waltzed into the end zone nearly untouched to give the AFC a 21-17 advantage.

The lead would be short-lived for the AFC as Eli Manning marched his team down the field for a famous Manning fourth quarter comeback. Eli threw a jump ball to game MVP Larry Fitzgerald who made a great catch over Cortland Finnegan to put the NFC up for good at 24-21.

MVP Larry Fitzgerald (Ronen Zilberman/AP)
The NFC would add a pair of John Carney field goals as AFC drives failed, and cruised to a 30-21 victory. The Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald caught five balls for 81 yards including two touchdowns, and was the unanimous MVP winner among the voters in the press box. Still, Fitzgerald wasn't overjoyed with his honor.

"It's still an exhibition game," Fitzgerald said. "We were just going through the motions and I was able to make some big catches."

The game was the 30th in Hawaii, and will be the final one on the island for the foreseeable future, as the NFL will play the game the week prior to the Super Bowl next season in Miami, site of Super Bowl XLIV.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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