"The NFC blew a 20-3 halftime lead" is the new "the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead." The AFC went back-to-back, outscoring the old league 21-3 in the second half to seal their second consecutive Pro Bowl victory. Here are five things we learned from Sunday's game, most of which are tangentially related to the box score:
- Derek Carr saved his best for last. In his first game since Jon Gruden's hiring (kind of), the Raiders quarterback led a furious second-half AFC comeback, leading his conference on three scoring drives to secure the 24-23 victory. His last-minute touchdown pass to Titans tight end Delanie Walker, the tight end's second of the afternoon, sealed the win -- and $32K more for the AFC players. Carr finished 11 of 15 for 115 yards and that touchdown, in what will absolutely be a precursor to a special 2018 for the Raiders.
- Drew Brees picked up where he left off, leading a 13-play scoring march on his first of two marches to put the NFC up early. Last we saw the future Hall of Famer, Brees was leading New Orleans on four second-half scoring drives and to the brink of victory in Minnesota before the, er, "Minnesota Miracle" wiped away memories of the Saints' special comeback. On a rainy pitch in Orlando, Brees was professional and proficient, finishing 7 for 9 for 66 yards and a touchdown pass to Vikings wideout Adam Thielen. (All's forgiven, right?) Brees and Thielen weren't the only veterans of the Miracle to have stellar Pro Bowl outings. Vikings defensive backs Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore combined for four passes defensed, and Smith had a 79-yard pick-six.
- It must be disheartening and even frustrating for Pittsburghers to tune into the Worldwide Leader on the Sunday Before The Sunday and watch the most talented players from the most talented team in recent Steelers history playing in a technicolor exhibition, when they could be, should be deplaning in Minnesota. It was especially sad to watch Randy Fichtner ring in his first game as Steelers offensive coordinator in the Pro Bowl, calling double reverses for Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and simple routes for Ben Roethlisberger to underthrow.
It's fair to wonder how much will change next season in the Steel City. Will Bell leave in free agency? Will Roethlisberger hint at retirement again? Will Fichtner force Big Ben to run a sneak? On Sunday, we got an answer to at least one of these quandaries. On third-and-1 from the NFC 39 with Roethlisberger under center, Fichtner called ... a dive to Roosevelt Nix. Some things don't change.
- Viewers of Sunday's Pro Bowl were treated to an unfamiliar sight: a deep ball thrown to and caught by Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins wideout ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per reception in 2017 (8.81 yards per carry), despite reeling in a career-high 112 catches. It just so happens that Landry is also an unrestricted free agent and will be the top wide receiver on the open market in March. All of this made Landry's 49-yard reception over All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes equally shocking and important; it was just the second catch of over 30 yards he had all year. Perhaps Landry's go-and-grab will inspire Adam Gase or [insert future coach here] to use the prolific wideout in more explosive capacities in 2018.
- ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck took the reins from newly introduced Raiders coach Jon Gruden in the Monday Night Football booth alongside play-by-guy guy Sean McDonough. At least for one game. The early returns? Solid. Benefiting from an in-huddle microphone, Hasselbeck often translated for the audience what play was about to happen, like Tony Romo but with a cheat sheet. Hasselbeck offers the desired "recently retired QB" perspective to the broadcast like Romo did and Jay Cutler will do next season in CBS and FOX booths, respectively. Romo's psychic skills and boyish enthusiasm drew raves from sports media critics, like NFL Network's Gregg Rosenthal. Should ESPN wish to replicate CBS' point-for-point success with Romo, Hasselbeck will be the best in-house candidate.