Orlando, Fla. — The Pro Bowl has long been considered a laughable representation of the NFL game.
It reached a new level of comedy Sunday as several players swapped positions during the annual all-star game.
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey caught a touchdown pass in the final minute, capping a dominate performance for the AFC defense in a 26-7 victory over the NFC in steady rain. It was the third consecutive victory for the AFC, all of them at Camping World Stadium.
The last two were played in sloppy weather, with the latest one also coming amid temperatures in the mid-50s. It was far from ideal conditions, raising speculation about the game’s future in Orlando, but fairly fitting considering the effort players provided. It was two-hand touch most of the day, with officials blowing plays dead at the slightest hint of contact.
“Who cares, man?” New York Jets safety Jamal Adams said. “At the end of the day, we’re like little kids out there just playing in the mud, playing in the rain.”
Regardless of the elements, the AFC made the plays the NFC didn’t.
Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Indianapolis’ Eric Ebron on the opening possession, helping Mahomes earn the offensive Most Valuable Player award. Mahomes pleaded with voters to give it to Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, who caught three passes for 92 yards and ran for a score.
“Sherman had my vote. Sherman had my vote,” said Mahomes, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 156 yards. “I thought I told everybody on the camera. He made some plays out there. For a fullback, we have one of the best in the league so I’m always happy to try to get him a little vote like that.”
Adams, who made headlines for sacking the New England Patriots mascot during a Pro Bowl skills competition, was named the defensive MVP thanks to an interception and a sack.
“It’s a great achievement, but the main thing was to come out here and get the victory,” Adams said. “That was the main thing, just to get the money, man. That’s what we wanted.”
Mahomes and Adams each got a luxury vehicle.
AFC players will get $67,000 each for the victory, $8,000 more than the guys who lose the Super Bowl next week in Atlanta. The Pro Bowl losers will get $39,000 each.
The AFC defenders earned their share of the pot. The conference allowed the NFC 148 total yards and 10 first downs while intercepting three passes and notching seven sacks.
Ramsey got in on offense late, catching a 6-yard slant pass from Houston’s Deshaun Watson with 19 seconds remaining. Los Angeles Chargers rookie safety Derwin James failed to haul in the 2-point conversion.
“Man, me and Deshaun, that’s my brother from another mother,” Ramsey said. “We’ve been plotting and scheming all week, manifesting, and it just came about.”
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara all got in on defense for the NFC. Evans notched an interception.
The AFC led 20-0 early in the fourth quarter, looking like it might record the first shutout in Pro Bowl history. But Dallas’ Dak Prescott found Atlanta’s Austin Hooper for a 20-yard score on fourth down with 9:09 remaining.
The NFC had plenty of chances before that. The conference failed to score on a fourth-and-goal run early. Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky, Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen and Prescott threw interceptions.
Trubisky was sacked by Adams on a flea flicker, and Dallas’ Amari Cooper had a wide-open touchdown pass bounce off his face mask.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson also was sacked four times.
Fans rally for Patriots
The New England Patriots have the Super Bowl send-off routine down pat.
Break out the “Super Bowl Bound” banner. Queue up the highlight video. Take a few shots at those loser cities that don’t have annual championship pep rallies. And round up the usual suspects: owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the team captains.
“We’re not at the end yet,” Brady told a sea of fans that covered the entire field at Gillette Stadium and filled most of one side of the lower seating bowl. “We’ve got one more to go.”
The five-time Super Bowl champion then led the crowd in a chant of “We’re still here!” before tossing the microphone aside to more cheers, and the Patriots headed off for buses that will start them on their way to Atlanta. They’ll play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday seeking their sixth NFL title since the 2001 season.
A host wearing a sweatshirt reading “New England vs. Everyone” set the tone, taking shots at the previous playoff opponents, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers. Looking out at the crowd, which the team estimated at 35,000, he said, “The Chargers consider this a sellout.”
“This is the biggest send-off we’ve ever had,” Belichick said.
Brady jerseys were everywhere, and many fans held up signs that were distributed saying that the GOAT — Greatest Of All Time — is better than a Ram. Center David Andrews, who grew up near Atlanta, went to Georgia and wore a Braves cap to the rally, told the crowd, “Can’t wait to see y’all there (and) show them what a real fan base is.”
Defensive Back Patrick Chung took a video with the crowd chanting “Beat LA!” in the background. Special teams captain Matthew Slater, whose father played 20 years for the Rams and is a member of the team’s Hall of Fame, said he grew up rooting for the team he will face when he tries for his third Super Bowl victory.
“But on Sunday, I don’t know nothing about no Rams,” he said.