By Elwyn Henderson
To say the 2023 NFL Pro Bowl was game different than in years past didn’t even begin to describe the event. There were several skills challenges during the days preceding the actual game, and the game itself was a flag football affair for the first time in the history of the Pro Bowl and it was played on a 50-yard field, making it a bit on the strange side to say the least. The players had only one chance to practice on Saturday prior to the game and the practice was called “rehearsal” rather than practice, making it all the more strange. However, as the games moved forward, all 58,331 fans in attendance including older NFL fans really got into the games and enjoyed the festivities.
The offensive linemen did not play in the game except at receiver positions from time to time, as each team played with 7 players on the field, much like the high school 7on7 games we have become accustomed to through the years.
The NFC squad was coached by former Giants quarterback Eli Manning and the AFC squad was coached by former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
The game included 10-minute halves with the clock stopping for scores. Additionally, the only first down was at midfield and no runs were allowed inside the 5-yard line. Teams began their possessions at the 5-yard line, 45 yards away from a score. There were no goal posts and a touchdown was worth 6 points and teams had an option to try from 5 yards out for 1 point or 10 yards out for 2 points.
The AFC got the ball first and moved down the field with Tyler Huntley of the Baltimore Ravens at quarterback. The score came when Huntley hit his tight end from the Ravens, Mark Andrews with 7:05 left in the first half. The try for 1 failed and the AFC led 6-0.
Geno Smith, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks led the first possession for the NFC and it took only 4 plays for them the find the end zone. Smith hit San Francisco tight end George Kittle on a 25-yard scoring pass with 5:51 left in the half. They went for 1 and Smith hit San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk for the conversion, putting the NFC up by the score of 7-6.
On the AFC’s second possession, they turned the ball over on downs at their 23, and the NFC was back in business. It took just one play for them to find the end zone again when Smith hit Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb with 2:58 left in the half. The conversion attempt for 1 point was no good, but the NFC upped their lead to 13-6.
The AFC came back on their next possession the AFC found the end zone again when Huntley hit Andrews once again with 1:19 left in the half. The try for 1 was no good and the NFC still led 13-12.
The NFC got right back on the board again on the first play of their next possession when Smith hit Minnesota Vikings tight end T. J. Hockenson on a 45-yard bomb with 1:09 left in the
half. The try for 1 was good on another pass to Hockenson, putting the NFC in control 20-12.
The AFC got one last possession before the half. Huntley hit Davante Adams of the Las Vegas Raiders from 24 yards out with 8 seconds left in the first half. The NFC was called for a personal foul, moving the ball to the 5 with the AFC getting a shot at a 2-point conversion. The try was good with Huntley hitting Adams again, and the score was tied 20-20.
The NFC completed a pass down to the AFC 19 with 1 second left in the half a called a time out. A pass into the end zone was intercepted by safety Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers to the end the half.
Halftime was only two minutes long and the NFC got the ball to begin the second half of play. They moved into the end zone when Smith ran in from 10 yards out, but the NFC was called for a false start, moving the ball back to the 8. On the next play Juszczyk took a handoff from Smith, pitched the ball back to him and then caught the 8-yard TD pass with 5:31 left in the game. The try for 1 was not good, but the NFC went back in the lead, 26-20.
On their ensuing possession, Huntley hit Ja’marr Chase of the Cincinnati Bengals on a 25-yard scoring pass with 2 minutes left in the game. The try for 1 was good when Huntley hit tight end Dawson Knox of the Buffalo Bills, giving the AFC a 27-26 lead.
The NFC knew their upcoming possession would most likely be their last of the game, so they knew the task at hand—they had to get into the end zone but needed to take as much time off the clock as possible before doing so.
After a 5-yard penalty the NFC faced a 4th and 7 when Smith hit Lamb for a second score in the game with 21 seconds left, putting the NFC up 32-27. They went for 1 ad after a razzle dazzle with two backward passes, Smith hit Hockenson once again and the try was good, putting the NFC up 33-27.
The AFC got one more chance, but a desperation pass fell incomplete and the NFC won the game, garnering 6 points on the games challenges. The AFC had led 9-3 in the games before the flag football win, so the games were tied at 9-9 with additional challenges left for the fans in attendance, estimated at about 40,000, to witness.
The first challenge after the game was Kick, Tac Toe, followed b the Gridiron Gauntlet, followed by the Flag Game #2.
Going into the second of three flag games, the AFC got the ball first. Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars started at quarterback.
On the third play of the possession Lawrence was intercepted by cornerback Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers for a pick-6 with 7:35 left in the first half. The try for 1 was no good, but the NFC took a quick 6-0 lead.
Lawrence bounced back in his next possession, hitting Adams for a TD with 3:30 left in the first half, tying the game at 6-6. The try for 1 was no good and the score remained tied.
Jared Goff fumbled on the next NFC possession at his 10 and it took just one play for the AFC to take the lead. Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans ran in from the 10 with 33 seconds left in the half. The try for 1 was no good, but the AFC took a 12-6 lead.
The NFC was unable to get into the end zone and the half ended, and they got the ball to begin the second half. On the third play of the possession, Goff was intercepted by Bradley Chubb, outside linebacker of the Miami Dolphins.
On the ensuing AFC possession, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs intercepted Stefon Diggs, wide receiver of the Buffalo Bills, and returned the ball down to the AFC 5. On the next play Goff hit Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings for a tying TD. The try for 1 was good and the NFC took a 13-12 lead.
On 5th and 10, Lawrence hit Diggs with 3:00 left in the game for a 45-yard TD. They made a decision to go for 2 from the 10 to attempt to get a 7-point lead. The pass fell incomplete and the score remained 18-13 in favor of the NFC.
On their final possession, the NFC failed to convert on a 4th down and the AFC walked off with the 18-13 victory and took an 18-12 lead in the games over the NFC.
Following the second flag game there was entertainment Rae Sremmurd and that was followed by a Move the Chains competition and a Best Catch Finals before the third and FINAL flag football game that featured Derek Carr in his swan song at Allegiant Stadium before making his final exit as a member of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The AFC won the Chains competition to take a 21-12 lead. The Best Catch competition was won by the NFC, pulling them to within 21-15 with one final event, the third and last flag football game left. The format called for the score to start out at 21-15 in favor of the AFC, as all of the scores from the previous events and flag games were put on the scoreboard.
The AFC won the coin tolls and Derek care came out to lead that unit to begin the final game. Carr was unable to get a first down and the NFC and Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings took over at the AFC 20 for their first possession.
Cousins led the NFC down to the 1 and on 4th down Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins who was playing on defense knocked the ball down and the AFC took over on their 1.
Budda Baker intercepted Carr at the NFC 17 ad the NFC was back on the offensive. They moved into the end zone with 1:07 left in the first half to tie the games at 21-21 and went for 1. The pass as dropped by Kittle and the game remained tied.
Carr hit Chase with 35 seconds left in the half to put the AFC back in the lead. The try for 1 was no good and the AFC led 27-21.
The NFC got one last crack before halftime and Cousins hit Juszczyk as time expired to tie the score at 21-21. The try for 1 was good when Cousins hit Lamb, giving the NFC a 28-27 lead at the two minute halftime break.
The NFC got the ball to begin the second half and Cousins led the team right down the field, throwing a TD pass to Kittle with just over 8 minutes remaining in the game. The try for 1 was good with Cousins hitting Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, and the NFC led 35-27.
The AFC scored with just over 3 minutes to go when Carr hit Knox on a 4th and goal to bring the AFC within 2. They went for 2 points from the 10, but Baker broke up the pass and the NFC led 35-33 at the 2-minute warning.
Once again, the NFC wanted to score again but use most if not all of the final 2 minutes off the clock before they did to claim victory in the games.
Cousins led his team down the field where they faced a 4th and goal from the AFC 1 with 47 seconds left in the game. A pass was incomplete but the AFC was called for defensive holding, giving the NFC a first down. Cousins took a knee and the clock ran out, giving the NFC the 35-33 win and the Pro Bowl Games Championship.
Although a lot of people had questions about the format of this year’s games, a good time was had by all and now all NFL fans can focus on the Super Bowl in Phoenix a week from today in Glendale, AZ, home of the Arizona Cardinals.