The AFC was this close to repeating its superiority in the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, but down 3-1 in all and 1-0 in the win-or-go home best-of-three dodgeball tourney, the NFC dodged, ducked, dipped, dove and dodged its way to the trophy.
The competition featured five events: a quarterback passing contest called "Precision Passing;" a relay race featuring a heavy bag gauntlet, a fumble drill and a 40-yard dash, among other things, called "Gridiron Gauntlet;" a receiver catching drill called "Best Hands;" a team-oriented fireman haul-slash-dunk tank challenge called "40-Yard Splash" and a dodgeball game called "Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball."
Here's how the NFC stole the title on Thursday night:
Thanks to the Colts teammate pairing of Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron and the sophomore synergy of Deshaun Watson and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the AFC beat the NFC by three seconds. Mike Evans notably struggled at the "Leaping Catch" station, setting his squad back nearly 25 seconds. Anonymous scouts say this is obviously a terrible sign for the Buccaneers heading into 2019.
The NFC fire-bombed that other conference, 40-22, with a game-best 19 points from Russell Wilson. The Seahawks QB needed just one point to beat the AFC after Andrew Luck underwhelmed with just five points, but decided to rub it in, telling ESPN's Lisa Salters, "We don't like winning close. We're gonna run away with this thing. Go Hawks." Before all that, Adam Thielen stunned the Orlando fare-goers by hitting a fiver.
There were buckets, a dunk tank, a foot fault by Von Miller, some compliments paid toward Brian Urlacher's legs and a flurry of poorly thrown footballs. But in the end, anti-mascot activist Jamal Adams knocked the NFC coach Urlacher into the dunk tank to send the AFC up 2-1. AFC coach DeMarcus Ware was dunked shortly thereafter. 'Twas an equal opportunity soakfest.
Mental mistakes killed the NFC in this one. After Ryan Kerrigan made up ground on retiree Kyle Williams, Bobby Wagner forgot to pick up a fourth ball on the fumble scramble and then Akiem Hicks went the wrong way following the heavy bag gauntlet. Adams pulled away from an overconfident George Kittle in the over under and Denzel Ward took it home. It looked over for the NFC, and the AFC knew it. "I went back to my childhood days running away from dogs," Adams boasted after the victory. James Conner taunted Wagner, saying there was "no competition." The two second-year studs would soon eat those words.
Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball
In the much-awaited grand finale to the festivities, the AFC and NFC split the first two matches. That meant the whole kit and caboodle came down to one ... last ... lawn sport. Six vs. six with coin at stake. In the end, it was no contest. The NFC knocked out five AFC players in barely a minute, leaving just Deshaun Watson and a swath of grass. The Texans quarterback was no match for Thielen, who knocked Watson and the AFC out of the running. It was one of the great collapses in recent Pro Bowl Skills Showdown history.