MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from an NFC-AFC Pro Bowl that was more notable for where it was played, when it was played, and who's not here, than anything that actually happened in the game ...
• Sounds like the Pro Bowl is staying in the week-before-Super-Bowl slot for the foreseeable future if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has any say in it (and he most assuredly does). So that means each and every season the NFL can try to beat this year's record of 34 players who pulled out of the game, either due to injury or mandatory inactivity (i.e., players from each Super Bowl team).
Thirty-four no-shows. Wow. That's nearly a third Pro Bowl roster in and of itself.
• I don't want to suggest the Pro Bowl is played at a leisurely, almost gentlemanly pace on defense, but NFC defensive end Justin Smith actually helped AFC offensive tackle Joe Thomas to his feet during -- repeat, during! -- the game's first touchdown, a Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson pass.
Is the phrase "Pro Bowl-style defense'' an oxymoron, or just a punch line? I get why this game outlaws blitzing. But when did they change the rules to prohibit tackling and pass coverage? I believe the NFC defense played most of the game in the popular "Cover None'' formation. It's a Pro Bowl thing.
• The only thing missing from that Brian Dawkins interception lateral-fest was the theme music from The Benny Hill Show playing in the background. Or maybe "Send in the Clowns.''
It's all fun and games until someone loses an ACL.
• With Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers picking the AFC apart in the first half (15 of 19, 197 yards, two TDs, 145.0 rating), and the AFC's red/white uniform scheme, you could almost convince yourself the Arizona Cardinals defense had picked things up where they left off against the Packers in the NFC playoffs.
• The NFC actually went for it -- and made it -- on 4th-and-7 from the AFC 42 in the second quarter. That's just not fair. The AFC defense wasn't even stopping anybody on three downs, let alone four.
• Why do they even name running backs to the Pro Bowl any more? In the first quarter, the NFC ran once, the AFC twice. As compared to a combined 25 pass plays that were called.
• A somewhat rainy Sunday night in South Florida. That can't be what Commissioner Goodell was hoping for with his grand Pro Bowl experiment.
Wonder what the weather was like in Honolulu on Sunday? Don't ask Goodell.
• If Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney does indeed have a torn ankle ligament and can't play in the Super Bowl, I'd say the Saints' chances of pulling the upset goes up by at least 10-15 percent. Without Freeney to worry about, New Orleans could slide its pass protection to Indy's other superb pass rusher, Robert Mathis, perhaps limiting his impact significantly.
That's why losing Freeney might end up costing the Colts more than just their pass rush on one side. It might well have a cumulative effect, allowing New Orleans to negate the rush from both sides of Indy's defensive line.
• Tell me if this sounds like Reggie Wayne thinks he'll see Freeney lining up against the Saints next Sunday night: "Hopefully we can have him out there, even if he's out there coaching the guys, [that] would be vital to us,'' said Wayne from the Pro Bowl.
That's not waving the white flag on Freeney's chances of playing, but it's close.
• The Pro Bowl resembled a regular-season game only when Eagles super soph DeSean Jackson had the ball in his hands. Mainly because he ran away from AFC defenders, scoring twice, just like he did all year for Philadelphia.
Come to think of it, ditto for when Josh Cribbs was the ballcarrier, too.
• You have no idea how close I came to pulling a Bryant McKinnie and not showing for the Pro Bowl. But when I found out there would be no penalty whatsoever for my absence, and they'd play the game without me, I figured, 'What's the point?' I'm only going to bail if someone notices. That's my rule.
• From what I understand, if there had been a poll taken this week among his fellow NFL players, McKinnie would have been named the most likely to pull an asinine stunt like partying his way off the NFC roster the day before the game. Let's just say people who know him weren't shocked that when he decided to put the club first, it turned out to be a nightclub.
Even his Vikings teammates are known to be disgusted with his act at this point, and I wouldn't be surprised if team owner Zygi Wilf adds his own fine to the one the NFL already is considering against McKinnie. The grounds? First-degree embarrassment of the Vikings organization. A punishable offense.
• I can see pulling a McKinnie in maybe the eighth Pro Bowl of one's career. Or at least thinking about it. But on your first trip to the NFL all-star game ... which is being played in your hometown? I'll go out on a limb here and predict that McKinnie will have a tough time getting either the player or fan vote the rest of his career.
• Speaking of non-surprising moves, Rex Ryan giving the finger to some vocal Dolphins at a Saturday night MMA event in Miami registers as something less than a shocker. You kind of sign up for the whole package with Ryan -- the good, the bad and the bluster. Not condoning him losing his composure in public, but you can't celebrate Ryan's refreshing unconventionality without occasionally getting the side of it that you'd care to do without.
My question is this: If we're going to jump on Ryan for his exhibition of poor taste, can't we start with his offense of attending an MMA event featuring Herschel Walker in the first place?
• McKinnie just announced that even if he had been named to the NFL's All-Decade Team, he wouldn't have been able to take part any way. Something about a party to go to.
• A headline I've been dying to see all week: London Fletcher to pull out of the Pro Bowl. Now that would have showed 'em, London.
It would have at least gotten Fletcher a little revenge on the game that has snubbed him for years now. The 34-year-old Redskins middle linebacker has been trying to make this game for his entire 12-year career, and was finally invited as an alternate when the Saints' Jonathan Vilma won his way to the Super Bowl.
• This is only the second Pro Bowl I've covered, but there is something I'm surprised I never realized before tonight: Players get to wear their own jersey number in the Pro Bowl, no matter if there's a dozen other No. 92s already on the roster. I exaggerate, but not much. The AFC had three No. 92s: Linebackers Elvis Dumervil (Broncos) and James Harrison (Steelers), as well as Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
That says plenty about the Pro Bowl, where it's all about the merchandising. For some strange reason, Pro Bowl jerseys are big sellers, even though I think the all-star game uniforms have a clownish, NFL Europe-quality.
I would imagine three No. 92s must make it awfully tough on the spotter for the radio broadcasts.
• I came up with a novel concept for Sunday night's game, but nobody went for it: Julius Peppers wearing a different team's helmet on every defensive series in the second half, just to see which one he thinks looks best for him next season.
• Credit to David Garrard for saying what we were all thinking, in response to a question about how it felt to throw a touchdown pass in his first Pro Bowl appearance: "It's so awesome,'' the Jaguars quarterback said. "One of my goals coming in to the game was to just be relevant and show all the people who said -- 'What is he doing here? The Pro Bowl has dropped off a few pegs' -- that I do belong.''
A few pegs?
• 49ers defensive end Justin Smith didn't exactly mean it as a putdown, but it was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Pro Bowl, either: "The pace is nice and good, and you don't have to worry about working too hard.''
Somehow, we could tell that.
• I have it on good authority that if the NFC had won, Wade Phillips was fully prepared to count the victory as another win in the postseason.
• The Pro Bowl crowd left a tad early. I looked up early in the fourth quarter and thought I was at a Marlins game.