HENDERSON, Nev. – And then there were three.
A rowdy game of dodgeball during the 2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games came down to three NFC players – Vikings RB Dalvin Cook, 49ers TE George Kittle and Giants RB Saquon Barkley – against a lone AFC competitor: Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick.
"We had a strategy to just all gang up and throw at once," Cook said, "And it worked."
Fitzpatrick couldn't dodge all three yellow balls, and Kittle's heave knocked him out, securing an NFC win.
The group of Pro Bowlers cheered and fist pumped, circling NFC captain Eli Manning.
"We're very competitive people. We all want to win," Cook said. "That was the goal, and we got it done."
He added with his signature smile: "I felt like a kid. That was fun."
View photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins and RB Dalvin Cook during the 2023 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown on Feb. 2, 2023.
Dodgeball marked just one of the eight skills challenges on the docket for this year's Pro Bowl Games, which will culminate Sunday with a flag football matchup featuring skill position players.
Each challenge presents an opportunity for the AFC or NFC to earn points.
Cook joined teammates Kirk Cousins, Andrew DePaola, T.J. Hockenson, Danielle Hunter, Justin Jefferson and Za'Darius Smith in Las Vegas this week for the all-star festivities.
"It's been fun," Cook said. "It's not the ultimate goal we all wanted, but you get to come here and sit back and reminisce on the season, just let loose and have fun. There was a lot of hard work put in this year, and we just came here to have fun and represent our teams. That's what it's all about."
While Cook participated in dodgeball, Cousins took on Precision Passing.
The Vikings quarterback tossed the football at targets – some placed stationary at various distances, and others that moved across the field – with point total assigned to each. Cousins added 10 points for the NFC but said he would have liked to get more.
"I don't know that I executed my strategy very well. I had a plan in terms of where I was gonna go first, second, third," Cousins said. "In the warmup session Wednesday, there was plenty of time. So I took my time and then ended up kind of being up against it at the end.
"Probably tried to throw the ball too hard, and then it ended up being too high at times. … But it's good to see the arm strength is still there, still works," he added with a laugh. "It sounds like it's all gonna come down to Sunday and the final flag football game, so that's when we'll have our chance for redemption."
Hunter participated in the Lightning Round, a three-round challenge, but he unfortunately was eliminated early during a water balloon toss. The Vikings outside linebacker was paired with Cowboys center Tyler Biadasz, who was unable to secure the catch from Hunter.
"He got out the first round!" Cook jabbed good-naturedly. "But it wasn't his fault. Honestly, I didn't think Danielle was gonna make it through just because of how big he is and how strong his hands are. I was like, 'D – I don't think that's the right challenge for you.' "
Jefferson joined other top receivers, including former Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, in the Best Catch competition, which was filmed at iconic Las Vegas locations.
Jefferson showed up and showed out in "Paris," even dressing the part in a black-and-white striped shirt and black beret. He caught a pass from former NFL quarterback Matt Leinert, who tossed the pigskin from the top of the Eiffel Tower – after which he, of course, broke into The Griddy.
The best catch will be voted on by fans, and Jefferson encouraged Vikings fans to show him some love.
Last but certainly not least, Hockenson and Smith represented the NFC in the Longest Drive challenge, during which players showed off their strengths on the golf course.
Hockenson impressed, coming in second place with a drive of 316 yards. He held the lead for a short bit before Bills safety Jordan Poyer sent a ball sailing for 320 yards.
And Smith? Well, Smith had never golfed before and wasn't afraid to admit it.
He also wasn't afraid to put some muscle into it, though.
" 'Z' is one of those freakish people. Just don't count him out of nothing," Cook said. "That's just in him."
View photos of Vikings OLB Za'Darius Smith and TE T.J. Hockenson as they compete in the Longest Drive during the 2023 Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Smith said he'd watched a few YouTube instructional videos before taking the green … but it didn't seem to quite pay off.
"I just hit it like a baseball," he said, laughing.
He caught some light-hearted heat from teammates but nevertheless impressed with his power.
"I wouldn't have even thought he'd be anywhere remotely near that golf course," Cousins quipped. "When I saw him get off the shuttle, I said, 'Where are you coming from?' And he goes, 'The Long Drive.' I said, 'To watch?' He's like, 'No, to do it.' I'm like, 'Oh, no. We have no chance.'
"I heard he grabbed it with a gap between his hands and then wound up like Happy Gilmore. But when he made contact, I heard it was pretty good," Cousins added. "What we needed was Andrew DePaola. I will stand by that. Andrew would have won it for us, but he didn't get the invite."
For the record, DePaola will compete Sunday in the Kick Tac Toe challenge, in hopes of keeping the NFC in the running.