LOS ANGELES: With a week to go before the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots clash in Super Bowl 51, NFL fans could whet their appetites on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with the Pro Bowl exhibition in Orlando, Florida.
As the Falcons arrived in Houston, Texas, on Sunday — with the Pats due in on Monday to begin their final build-up to the title showdown — league stars whose teams did not make it to the title showdown put on a defensive show.
Sunday’s all-star exhibition was the lowest-scoring Pro Bowl since 1988 as the American Football Conference made two first-half goal-line stands then held off the favored National Football Conference’s final drive to win 20-13.
Field goals provided all of the scoring in the second half.
The Baltimore Ravens’ Justin Tucker converted on 38- and 31-yard attempts to give the AFC a 20-7 advantage with 14:12 left to play before the Detroit Lions’ Matt Prater hit from 42 and 46 to pull the NFC within a touchdown at the 4:29 mark.
The NFC got the ball back at their 31-yard line with 2:39 remaining and crossed midfield at the two-minute warning on a pass from Washington Redskins’ quarterback Kirk Cousins to the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham.
But the drive fizzled when Cousins’ pass to Seattle’s Jimmy Graham eluded the Seahawks tight end and was intercepted by Buffalo’s Lorenzo Alexander.
Cousins threw for 158 yards on 14-of-20 accuracy in the fourth quarter. Beckham caught six passes for 93 yards as the NFC outgained the AFC 353-241.
After playing the first scoreless quarter in a Pro Bowl in 10 years, the teams finally broke through in the second period.
The AFC found the end zone on the quarter’s first play, with Kansas City signal caller Alex Smith finding Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker on a 26-yard touchdown pass, Walker juggling the ball for a moment before securing possession with both feet in bounds.
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees tied the score at 7-7 when he connected with Seattle’s Doug Baldwin on a 47-yard scoring strike with 6:26 left in the half.
The NFC failed to convert on two chances inside the AFC five-yard line, as Dallas rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal in the first quarter and Brees was intercepted in the end zone by Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore in the second.
The AFC took a 14-7 lead to halftime after Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton flipped a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, who got behind Minnesota’s Harrison Smith on a crossing pattern.
After three years in which the Pro Bowl teams were picked by retired stars, the game returned to a more traditional clash of conferences.