By Andrew Carney
HONOLULU (AP/The Loop) — The NFL’s all-stars are defending their effort in the lowest scoring Pro Bowl in eight years — a game that pitted teammates against each other in a contest decided in the final minute.
“The game was as good as an all-star game or Pro Bowl could ever be and it’s been a great week,” said New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught an 8-yard touchdown from Saints teammate Drew Brees in the second quarter Sunday en route to a 22-21 victory for Jerry Rice over Deion Sanders.
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray caught a 20-yard touchdown pass with 41 seconds left and Carolina running back Mike Tolbert plunged into the end zone for a 2-point conversion to give Rice the win in the first NFL all-star game to stray from the AFC versus NFC format.
Rice also earned fresh bragging rights on Sanders nearly a decade after both players retired from the NFL.
“They called my number the whole way,” Tolbert said on the field after the game. “Philip (Rivers) told them to give it to me. My old teammate, he told them to give it to me.”
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker missed a 67-yard field goal on the game’s final play after missing a 66-yarder earlier in the game.
Rice’s team came back after Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles threw a 12-yard touchdown to Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron with less than 5 minutes to play to give Sanders a 21-14 lead.
The touchdowns by Cameron and Murray were the only scores of the second half in a game that had eight turnovers — including six interceptions — and nine sacks.
“It was definitely sloppy. There was a lot of turnovers because of the weather,” said Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, who was a captain on Sanders’ team. “There was a lot of rain, so obviously that factored into it.”
The game was played in consistent rain, but little wind and temperatures in the high 70s.
Foles was the only quarterback of six in the game to not throw an interception. He was named offensive MVP, finishing with seven completions for 89 yards.
Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton also had touchdowns for Team Sanders. Graham and Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon caught touchdowns for Team Rice. Gordon led Team Rice with six catches for 66 yards, while Washington running back Alfred Morris had four catches for 69 yards.
The Pro Bowlers were split up by the NFL greats in a new draft format meant to improve the game. The picks made earlier in the week created matchups that pitted usual teammates against each other and challenged Rice and Sanders to compare the all-stars against one another. That led to plenty of trash talk between Rice and Sanders and some bruised egos among players used to being on top of their sport.
“Great Job Goat!!!!” Sanders tweeted toward Rice after the game. “Enjoy this moment cause u know I’m hot right now.”
The result Sunday was a game that appeared more competitive than in years past, with some big hits — even between teammates — and fewer shenanigans.
“It was crazy, but we had fun with it,” Gordon said. “I loved it and enjoyed it.”
Gordon was flipped by teammate T.J. Ward on one of the biggest hits in the game.
“I don’t think he knew what he was doing, but I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt on that one,” Gordon said. “I’ll get him back in Cleveland.”
Jackson caught the game’s first touchdown pass from Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck threw the ball 36 yards into double coverage in the end zone on a flea flicker, where Jackson wrestled it away from Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner.
Graham caught an 8-yard fade in the second quarter from Brees, turning around Brees’ slow start. Graham dunked the ball over the crossbar in celebration, but San Diego safety Eric Weddle jokingly defended the attempt.
Newton scored on 1-yard run up the middle for a touchdown, making up for an earlier interception on a ball Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden wrestled away from Jackson.
Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson — who had a big hit in the first half on Chiefs teammate Jamaal Charles — was selected as the game’s defensive MVP for Team Rice.
“I didn’t expect it, but he’s out there doing his thing,” said Charles, who was knocked out of Kansas City’s playoff loss to Indianapolis with a concussion. “I can’t get mad at him — it’s just about football and you’ve just got to be ready.”
“If you stand back, he’s going to make you look pretty bad, so I had to go out and really give it to him,” Johnson said. “I would never try to hurt my teammate at all, but compete a little bit.”
Johnson had nine tackles, including eight solo tackles. Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly had 12 tackles, including 11 solo tackles.
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez caught three passes for 50 yards in his final NFL game. The retiring receiver likely headed to the Hall of Fame was a replacement in the game for 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
Gonzalez said there is “no chance” he’ll return next year.
“This is it for me. I had the privilege of a nice, long career in this league and I was blessed to have done so,” Gonzalez said. “It was nice to be able to come back to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl one last time and end it out here.”
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia
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