Packers defensive backs Al Harris and Nick Collins played for the NFC. Harris had a strong performance. The AFC targeted him three times in the end zone but came away empty. He finished with three tackles and one pass defensed. Collins had one tackle on defense and two on special teams..
The AFC team drew first blood as it began at its 4-yard line thanks to a Jeff Feagles 59-yard punt. Peyton Manning used a variety of targets to drive the team out of the shadows of its goalpost and into the end zone as he hit Tony Gonzalez with a 19-yard touchdown pass on a corner route. Gonzalez caught two passes on the drive for 41 yards, as the AFC went 96 yards in 10 plays in 4:51.
The NFC found its way onto the scoreboard on the first possession of the second period as Drew Brees led his team down the field, hitting a variety of receivers including Steve Smith and Jason Witten. The NFC also received some tough running from Adrian Peterson and Clinton Portis en route to a 37-yard John Carney field goal to cut the AFC lead to 7-3. The drive lasted 5:47 and covered 69 yards on 12 plays.
The AFC tried to answer the NFC's drive. Leon Washington returned the kickoff to the AFC 40-yard line, and Peyton Manning converted on several third and fourth downs to give his AFC team a first-and-goal from the 3. Led by Harris, the NFC defense then held firm, and on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, Manning threw incomplete to Broncos wideout Brandon Marshall against Harris.
"I had a good first series but I would've liked to have scored on that last series," Manning said. "You get down to the 1-yard line and you really would have liked to get it into the end zone. We didn't quite connect."
The AFC took a 14-3 lead when Kerry Collins found Houston Texans tight end Owen Daniels for a 21-yard touchdown. But with just seconds remaining in the half, the NFC team wasn't finished. Tampa Bay return man Clifton Smith brought the kickoff back near midfield. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees then found Larry Fitzgerald on a post pattern for a 48-yard touchdown to end the half with a bang and to pull the NFC to within 14-10.
"There were 9 seconds left, and we were thinking about getting into field goal range," Brees said. "We didn't have any timeouts so if we got caught in bounds we'd be in trouble. We just tried to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald downfield and when you have a guy like that, he's such a special talent, just as good as anybody in the league at going up and getting the ball. I just tried to buy some time so he could push on the corner and I threw it down there in the end zone and you just know that he can jump up and make a play."
Cortland Finnegan, who was beat on the play, was impressed by Fitzgerald, who set a playoff record this season for receiving yards.
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald scored two touchdowns and was voted MVP of the Pro Bowl.
Ronen Zilberman/AP Images
The AFC offense sputtered in the second half as they had issues moving the ball against the NFC offense. Collins accounted for two third-period turnovers, the second being most critical as Minnesota's Jared Allen sacked Collins, and then proceeded to strip and recover the football at the AFC 10-yard line. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson scored on the first play on a 10-yard touchdown run off tackle to give the NFC their first lead at 17-14.
With new quarterback Jay Cutler at the helm, the AFC reclaimed the lead as the strong-armed Bronco led the AFC down the field on a 13-play, 89-yard drive that was capped by a Le'Ron McClain touchdown run from 5 yards out. McClain took a direct snap as quarterback Jay Cutler went into motion and waltzed into the end zone nearly untouched to give the AFC a 21-17 advantage.
The lead would be short-lived for the AFC as Giants quarterback Eli Manning marched his team down the field. His jump ball to Fitzgerald over Finnegan to put the NFC up for good at 24-21.
The NFC added a pair of John Carney field goals as AFC drives failed.
The Cardinals' Fitzgerald caught five balls for 81 yards and two touchdowns, and was the unanimous MVP winner among the voters in the press box. Still, Fitzgerald wasn't overjoyed with his honor.
"It's still an exhibition game," Fitzgerald said. "We were just going through the motions and I was able to make some big catches."
The game was the 30th in Hawaii, and will be the final one on the island for the foreseeable future, as the NFL will play the game the week prior to the Super Bowl next season in Miami, site of Super Bowl XLIV.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive and is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.