Orlando, Florida — Competitiveness was finally brought back to the annual Pro Bowl. On Sunday in Orlando, the match-up between the AFC and NFC came down to key defensive stops down the stretch in a 20-13 victory for the American Football Conference.
In recent years, the Pro Bowl got a bad rap for its lack of defense and overall passion. However, On Sunday that reputation was thrown away as the two teams combined for just 33 points, the lowest total since 1998.
Leading the way for the AFC were the members of the Buffalo Bills defense, a unit led by the recently-released Rob Ryan, that ranked sixth in the NFL against the pass in the regular season, but 29th against the run.
Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander took home the defensive MVP honors, leading all players with nine tackles (eight solo). Alexander broke up two passes and made the game-winning interception with 80 seconds left when Kirk Cousins‘ pass went through the hands of all-pro tight end Jimmy Graham.
Alexander’s teammate, Zach Brown, racked up seven tackles of his own, including a goal-line stand in the first quarter when he dropped rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot inches from the goal-line on fourth down.
The first of two AFC takeaways came courtesy of another member of the Bills’ defense. Defensive back Stephon Gilmore jumped in front of Odell Beckham Jr. to intercept Drew Brees in the end zone with 9:26 left in the first half.
Kansas City’s Travis Kelce took home the offensive MVP award with three catches for 36 yards. His 23-yard touchdown reception from Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton broke a 7-7 tie in the second quarter and the AFC kept the lead for the remainder of the game.
Despite throwing his first Pro Bowl interception, Dalton led a field goal drive on the AFC’s first second-half possession to make it 17-7. He finished 10 of 12 for 100 yards, and averages a 96.4 passer rating in three career All-Star games.
Although the Bills’ defense played a huge role in the victory, it was Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins who applied pressure down the stretch on Cousins. Atkins had a solo sack and split another with the Broncos’ Von Miller, which forced the NFC to settle for two Matt Prater field goals.
Each member of the AFC’s winning roster received a $61,000 bonus.
Photo: Orlando Sentinel