Sunday, February 11, 2007
HONOLULU, Feb. 10 -- Even while the star-studded AFC cruised to a comfortable lead in the Pro Bowl, Carson Palmer could sense a wacky finish lurking just beyond everybody's control.
"With this much talent, anybody could change the game at any time," the Cincinnati quarterback said. "You've got to expect something crazy to happen, because it will."
Palmer's hunch proved correct in the improbable final minutes -- but thanks to Palmer's poise and a costly NFC penalty, the AFC's Hawaiian vacation ended with another win.
Nate Kaeding kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to cap another strong drive led by Palmer, the MVP of the AFC's 31-28 victory Saturday in the 57th edition of the NFL's all-star game.
The NFC trailed 28-14 with three minutes to play before injecting a little drama into this normally mellow exhibition. Steven Jackson scored on a fourth-down touchdown run, and Ronde Barber recovered an onside kick to set up Anquan Boldin's 47-yard touchdown catch from Tony Romo with 1 minute 48 seconds left -- followed by a tying two-point conversion catch by Carolina's Steve Smith.
Suddenly, the AFC's $40,000 bonuses for winning the game were in doubt. But just as quickly as the NFC's playmakers got back in the game, the AFC got it together again.
"I had a feeling they were going to have one more shot," Jackson said. "These games are all about who lands the last punch, and Carson is a great player."
Palmer, who passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns, calmly got the AFC across midfield -- and then Arizona's Adrian Wilson leveled Chad Johnson at the goal line on a pass play.
The 39-yard penalty put the ball near the goal line. San Diego's Kaeding easily made his field goal, setting off fireworks at sold-out Aloha Stadium for the talent-rich AFC's eighth win in the last 11 Pro Bowls.
Palmer threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Johnson and a 72-yarder to Reggie Wayne, and Baltimore's Ed Reed intercepted two passes before the frantic finish. Palmer, who took over for Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning after just two series, went 8 for 17 in his first Pro Bowl action.
Baltimore's Adalius Thomas returned Marc Bulger's fumble 70 yards for a confusing score in the first half, but there was no confusion about the game's best play: Sean Taylor, the maverick Washington safety, broke the unwritten rule about hard hits in an exhibition when he viciously leveled Buffalo punter Brian Moorman on an attempted fake in the third quarter.
NFC starter Drew Brees played just two series before dislocating his left elbow -- a scary moment for Sean Payton, his coach with both the Saints and the NFC squad, but one that's unlikely to affect next season.