LAS VEGAS: For Kirk Cousins, it wasn’t quite the NFL-record 33-point comeback against the Indianapolis Colts to win the NFC North.
However, Cousins was the quarterback for the third and final flag football game at the Pro Bowl on Sunday for a reason.
NFC coach Eli Manning wanted Cousins in that spot to decide the overall winner, and the Minnesota Vikings QB responded by throwing three touchdown passes to rally the NFC to a 35-33 victory over the AFC in the Pro Bowl Games and end that conference’s five-game losing streak.
Cousins completed 15 of 19 passes for 150 yards in the NFL’s reformatted all-star contest, which gave the NFC the victory.
“It’s hard to wait around that long to play, but I appreciate Eli letting me be the third guy and fun to go in there and be the closer,” Cousins said.
Based on the earlier flag games and skills competitions, the AFC took a 21-15 lead into the final flag game.
The Pro Bowl changed its format this season, eliminating the traditional game and replacing it with three flag games played on a 50-yard field and a series of skills competitions.
Each of the first two flag games was worth six points and each skills event was three. The total points were accumulated to form the score entering the final flag game.
“I thought it was awesome,” San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey said. “Guys had fun. It got intense there at the end.”
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams noticed the NFC took the game more seriously than expected, such as sending Cowboys safety KaVontae Turpin at the quarterback.
“Hopefully, next year the NFC will actually play some man and not sit back in Cover-2 the whole time and blitz one of the fastest men in the league,” Adams said. “Interesting technique by them, but it was still a good time.”
Brothers Eli and Peyton Manning each have two Super Bowl rings, but Eli has this Pro Bowl victory over his older sibling.
“I am the greatest coach of the Mannings,” Eli said tongue-in-cheek on the NFL’s Twitter account. “I am so much better at coaching than Peyton, it’s unbelievable.”
He wasn’t the only brother to earn bragging rights. Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs intercepted a pass off a trick play from Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
The Cleveland Browns, however, announced defensive end Myles Garrett dislocated a toe Sunday, but X-rays were negative.
Garrett played with a sprained shoulder this season from a car accident in September, but still had a team-record 16 sacks.
Injuries were something the NFL hoped to avoid by switching to this new format.
Though tackling wasn’t allowed, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey leveled Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill at the goal line.
Cousins said he hopes youngsters watching the Pro Bowl will want to participate in flag football and help that version of the sport grow.
The change to a flag game took some getting used to, but Cousins said that also made it more fun.
“You’re kind of drawing stuff up in the dirt,” he said. “It’s not as defined of a plan, so some of our guys were coming into the huddle saying, ‘Hey, I think if we did this.’ You try to listen to them and incorporate it. So it was fun, but also a little hectic.”
“Learning the rules was a little tricky because this was so different,” McCaffrey said. “But I think everybody learned pretty quick and had fun.”
The Pro Bowl has received quite a bit of criticism in recent years, but the NFL keeps the event for a reason — fans pay attention.
The announced crowd of 58,331 was more than 2,000 more than last year, also played at Allegiant Stadium.
No site has been announced for next year’s Pro Bowl, but it’s unlikely the NFL will want that event to be played in the same venue just before the Super Bowl, which will be in Las Vegas.