LAS VEGAS — While a flag football game may have been more competitive, that doesn’t mean the NFL’s all-stars had no pride in their showing and the eventual outcome of what amounted to a two-hand-touch game at the 2022 Pro Bowl.
No live tackling to the ground? No matter. Not to the fans who hung on every play at Allegiant Stadium, the first of three league events in Las Vegas, with the draft coming in April and Super Bowl LVIII in two years.
The goal, as players said throughout the week of practice, was to have fun and emerge unscathed. Mission accomplished, then, as the AFC beat the NFC 41-35 in a turnover-marred exhibition before an announced crowd of 56,206.
Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby had three batted passes and a sack and was named the game’s defensive MVP. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was the offensive MVP, going 7-for-11 for 98 yards with two TD passes and an interception.
Crosby said earlier in the week he only knew “one speed” and would have to figure out just how hard to play in the Pro Bowl.
“I just, I didn’t want to injure or hurt anybody,” Crosby said after the game, “but I still wanted to have fun and work on my game. [Raiders defensive line coach Rod] Marinelli watched in practice all week and he challenged me.”
Herbert said it was a “great opportunity” to glean things from “some of the great players in the game” during the week.
“It was a little slower than a normal game but the same concepts were at work,” he said. “I’ve got to watch film and get better at it.”
Crosby became the first Raiders Pro Bowl MVP since Rich Gannon won it in back-to-back years in 2001 and ’02. Herbert is first Chargers Pro Bowl MVP since Dan Fouts in 1983.
Leonard stepped in front of a pass intended for Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts near the left sideline. He then ran across the middle of the field and to the right sideline before outrunning Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Ali Marpet and juking Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen to go back to the middle of the field, then beating Minnesota Vikings tackle Brian O’Neill to the end zone.
Granted, in a real game, Leonard would have been tackled — hard — immediately after the interception. But in an exhibition, the fans who paid at least $89 per ticket enjoyed the athletic display by Leonard.
Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans got loud oohs and ahhs on his 19-yard TD catch in the second quarter when he went up and over the back of Las Vegas Raiders linebacker Denzel Perryman to haul in Murray’s pass. And yeah, Perryman took to Twitter in the locker room at halftime to address the play.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Las Vegas event without more locals being involved, with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow hauling in a 6-yard TD pass from New England Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones in the back of the end zone on a pretty double-toe-tap number.