The NFL wanted a better Pro Bowl. And it got it.
Criticized in recent years for players not giving full effort and for the games getting too high-scoring and too different from the regular product we see each Sunday, this year's Pro Bowl was a different story.
Whether it was the unconferenced format, which pitted regular-season teammates against each other for the first time, or the competitive draft from alumni captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, or maybe just the threat from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last year that the players needed to pick it up or the game could be discontinued, the 2014 Pro Bowl was a lot more entertaining.
In the end, Team Rice defeated Team Sanders 22-21 with a late touchdown from DeMarco Murray with just 41 seconds to play. A two-point conversion run Carolina's Mike Tolbert gave Team Rice the lead. A 67-yard field goal attempt by Baltimore's Justin Tucker fell short, giving Rice the win.
Eagles QB Nick Foles was named Offensive MVP and Kansas City linebacker Derrick Johnson took home the Defensive MVP honors.
The Cowboys originally had only two players – Tyron Smith and Dez Bryant – voted into the game. But in the last two weeks, three players were added as alternates. The Cowboys had a total five on the field Sunday night.
Here's a quick look how each player fared in the game.
Dez Bryant – Playing in his first Pro Bowl, the receiver wasn't a huge factor for Team Sanders. He had two catches for 12 yards but did have a chance to score in the third quarter but dropped a fourth-down pass right at the goal line.
Jason Witten – For most of the game, Witten was a non-factor but he did have two catches – his only two – in the final minute of the game as Team Sanders drove for the win. Although he did start, he gave way to Cleveland's Jordan Cameron, who ultimately caught the game-winning score late in the fourth. Witten has now played in nine Pro Bowls in his 11-year career, but this past game probably won't be his most memorable.
Tyron Smith – The first-time Pro Bowler started for Team Rice but played the entire game at right tackle after playing the season on the left side. Smith had a false start penalty early in the game but clearly had some issues blocking Houston's J.J. Watt and a stiff pass-rush by Team Sanders, which had four sacks and four turnovers. Smith played most of the game without much substitution.
Jason Hatcher – Also a starter for Team Rice, Hatcher had a fourth-quarter sack on Eagles QB Nick Foles on third down. Hatcher also had an offside penalty but played fairly well, coming up with a huge QB pressure in the final seconds in what could be his final game with a Cowboys helmet. Hatcher is expected to be an unrestricted free agent in March and after having a career season with 11 sacks to earn his first Pro Bowl trip, Hatcher might be out of the price range for cap-strapped Cowboys.
DeMarco Murray – The third tailback for Team Rice, Murray wasn't much of a factor until the final drive. Murray caught a dump-off pass from Alex Smith and scurried in for 20-yard touchdown to pull his team within one point. A two-point conversion by Tolbert on the next play giave Team Rice the win. although he did have four carries for 25 yards and four catches for 37 yards.