1. The football community and the sports world entire was shaken Sunday by the news of Kobe Bryant’s passing. News of the NBA legend’s death trickled out right as the Pro Bowl got underway in Orlando, leaving players on the field and fans in the stands to learn about the news in real time on live television. In an interview with ESPN during the second quarter, Drew Brees lauded Bryant as “one of the great competitors of any generation.” Mark Ingram was checking his phone and asking NFL Network’s Jane Slater about updates on the developing story. Following a third-quarter sack, Za’Darius Smith led the NFC defense in a fadeaway celebration in honor of the shooting guard. Davante Adams punctuated a touchdown reception by dunking the ball over the goal posts. Late in the second quarter, a moment of silence was held for Bryant. Camping World Stadium, filled with football fans, soon erupted into a “Ko-be” chant. On a day when the best in the NFL were celebrated for their play, Bryant and those who died in Sunday’s helicopter crash were not far from anyone’s mind, on or off the field.
2. We got our first glimpse of the onside kick alternative implemented just for the Pro Bowl. Following an NFC touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut the AFC’s lead to 38-33, Pete Carroll sent out his offense instead of his special teams unit. The alternative allows a team to elect to give its opponent the ball at its own 25 or to attempt a fourth-and-15 from its own 25-yard line in an attempt to keep possession. Carroll chose the latter. On the attempt, Kirk Cousins, flushed out of the pocket, stepped back to his own 15 before launching a bomb toward Kenny Golladay at the AFC’s 25-yard line. However, Golladay was double-covered by Joe Haden and Earl Thomas, and the Ravens safety intercepted Cousins. Thomas lateraled to Marlon Humphrey, and Humphrey lateraled to Matthew Judon before the Ravens‘ return was downed at the NFC 35. The AFC picked up possession from that spot. So the first try at this experiment was a failure for the offense, and it’s unclear when or if we will see it allowed again.
3. Drew Brees got the start in place of the supposed starter Russell Wilson, who deferred to the 41-year-old vet. Brees led just two drives in the first quarter, but found a familiar friend on the second possession. Brees connected with Michael Thomas twice on a five-play touchdown drive, including on a 16-yard TD reception. It was a familiar routine for Brees and Thomas, who broke the single-season receptions record this season. Whether that was the final pass Brees threw to Thomas is up to him and the Saints. An impending free agent, the quarterback is expected to make a decision regarding his playing future in the coming weeks.
4. On the other sideline, AFC starting QB Lamar Jackson didn’t quite light up Orlando with his legs as he did in the regular season; he ran just twice for six yards. But like Brees, the Ravens signal-caller shined when tossing to a teammate. Jackson (16 of 23, 185 yards, 2 TDs, INT) completed six passes on six attempts to tight end Mark Andrews (nine rec., 73 yards), the last of which went for six. Jackson and Andrews led the Pro Bowl in passing and receptions, respectively. The presumptive 2019 Most Valuable Player, Jackson was awarded Offensive MVP honors at the Pro Bowl; Jaguars defensive tackle Calais Campbell was named Defensive MVP. Though Jackson and the Ravens would certainly prefer to be playing in South Florida next weekend instead of Central Florida on Sunday, the quarterback can take this week of celebration as some sort of consolation.
5. Weird play of the day: With the AFC down 24-14 and driving in the third quarter, Deshaun Watson threw an interception near the goal line to the NFC’s Harrison Smith. After falling to the ground untouched, the Vikings safety got up and attempted a length-of-the-field return. Encountered by AFC tacklers around the 40-yard line, Smith lateraled the ball to 6-foot-4, 310-pound Fletcher Cox. The Eagles defensive tackle, armed with a flank of blockers, took off to the end zone. Cox was met with little resistance from Courtland Sutton, who leisurely jogged alongside him for about 25 yards in the end zone.