With five players representing the 49ers in the revamped Pro Bowl format, they came to Las Vegas well-equipped to leave their mark on the marquee event.
George Kittle started the scoring off for the NFC with a bang, catching a ball in the flat from Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, before turning up field and eluding two AFC defenders to reach the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown that was largely the product of the yards after the catch that Kittle had generated.
In this flag football format, the extra points are a choice of either a play ran from the five-yard line for one point, or a play ran from the 10 ten-yard line for two points. The NFC opted for the former, and Smith was able to find 49ers do it all fullback Kyle Juszczyk to put the NFC ahead 7-6.
Juszczyk later added a touchdown of his own to push the NFC lead to 26-20, while also adding a key block downfield to free up a teammate for a big gain.
Fred Warner made his impact early in the second game of the day, taking away a check down that forced Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence to throw back across the middle of the field where he was picked off by Packers' cornerback Jaire Alexander, who ran it back for a touchdown to give the NFC a 6-0 lead.
Talanoa Hufanga had tight coverage on Raiders star wide receiver Davante Adams, forcing an incompletion and preventing the AFC from taking the lead on an extra point attempt down in the red zone.
Juszczyk and Kittle proved vital for the NFC down the stretch, scoring back to back touchdowns to take what was once a one point lead and stretch it to double digits, effectively clinching the victory for the NFC.
Kittle and Juszczyk were also the only pair of teammates to record multiple touchdowns in this game, combining for 8 catches, 78 yards and four touchdowns. The duo was electric in this one, and when they weren’t dicing up the AFC defense on the field, they were busy putting on a show with an exhibition of wrestling moves on one another.
WWE really has to figure out a way to get George Kittle involved. pic.twitter.com/Q1leyAgEQj— Getting Over: Wrestling Podcast (@GettingOverCast) February 6, 2023
Warner left his mark in the stat sheet as well, recording seven total tackles, which was more than any other player who participated in the competition. Six of those tackles were solo and All-Pro Fred made it clear that it doesn’t matter whether it’s flag or regulation football, he is still going to remain the gold standard at the position.
While the big guys didn’t play a major role in the flag football games, one of the funnier moments of the day occurred during the move the chains drill while the AFC was pulling away for certain victory, Trent Williams ran up and single-handedly tried to pull back on the weighted wall being pulled in the opposite direction by five separate AFC players. If anyone were able to do it, it’s Williams.
Overall, it was an exciting atmosphere, and it was clear the players were having a great time competing against one another, whether it was the skill games or the flag football, there was a level of palpable excitement in these games that had been sorely lacking for the previous handful of the Pro Bowls over the past few seasons.
While it may not be the perfect format, it’s definitely trending in the right direction. The NFL seems to have found a good foundation to build on moving forward, and for now seemingly has the support of the majority of the stars who will be attending this all star showcase for the foreseeable future.