When he learned that each player on the winning team would receive $64,000, double what the losers would get, Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans vowed to play hard in Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately for the NFC, Evans only played a small handful of snaps and didn’t factor at all into the outcome of what proved to be a 20-13 AFC victory at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.
A minor injury that is not believed to be serious kept Evans from playing a larger role in the first Pro Bowl game he was voted into and you could argue he was greatly missed.
Though the NFC outgained the AFC 353-241 it struggled to find the end zone, twice being denied points of any kind from inside the 5-ayrd line and settling for a pair of field goals down the stretch.
“I’m just a little dinged up,’’ Evans told reporters afterward. “I just wanted to play a few plays to get the experience. It’s nothing, nothing big (serious). I just didn’t feel like I was ready go full go.’’
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs other representative in the game, was full go and he played a big role in keeping the AFC at bay through most of the first half.’
McCoy recorded four tackles and had this sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton as part of his fifth straight appearance in what amounts to the NFL’s all-star classic:
And he's showing why.
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2017
McCoy’s effort was part of what proved to be a well contested battle, one that was in sharp contrast to the games that have been played most recently in this series.
Indeed, the poor effort displayed a year ago drew a rebuke of the two teams from Commissioner Roger Goodell but Goodell had to be pleased with the first game played in Orlando.
The game proved to be exciting right to the very end, with one of the most exciting plays of the entire season coming in the final minutes as the NFC attempted to comeback and tie the game.
The play started when Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass at his own 2-yard line and returned the ball 20 yards to the 22, where he lateralled the ball to former Bucs and current Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. See here:
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2017
Talib returned the ball another 63 yards and appeared to be heading to the end zone when Cousins chased him down and forced a fumble that Talib eventually recovered at the NFC 12.
Cousins 60-yard run to chase down Talib was one of the highlights in a game in which he also led all quarterbacks by completing 14 of 20 passes for 158 yards.
Jordan Howard of the Bears led all running back with five carries for 21 yards while Odell Beckham of the Giants led all pass catchers with six receptions for 93 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball Everson Griffen fo the Vikings has eight tackles, including three sacks, and Michael Bennett of the Seahawks had a pair of sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Even the coaches got into the competitive nature of the game, challenging several plays, including one in which Saints quarterback was thought to have caught his own pass after it was batted down at the line.
AFC coach Andy Reid lost that challenge but he won for dialing up a fake field goal later in the quarter, a play that resulted in a first down when tight end Travis Kelce caught a 7-yard pass from holder Dustin Colquitt.
The fake field goal kept the drive alive but the drive still didn’t result in any more than a field goal for Justin Tucker, whose second of the night, this one from 31 yards out gave the AFC a 20-7 lead.