ORLANDO –For Everson Griffen, football is football is football.
While the Pro Bowl may not have any official implications, Griffen didn't play half-heartedly on a single snap in the all-star game.
"I just came here to have fun," Griffen said before adding with a laugh, "I worked out a little bit before I came, so I made sure I was in shape to give a little more effort than I should have."
Griffen led the NFC with eight tackles and 3.0 of the team's 7.0 sacks, starting with a takedown of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the third quarter for a loss of 5 yards.
Later on, Griffen recorded two sacks of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on consecutive plays to end one possession by the AFC and start another with a positive play for the NFC.
"He goes hard, no matter what," Harrison Smith said of Griffen after the game. "He's an incredible player, and that's always on display."
Griffen said it felt great to get the trio of big plays and be out on the football field again.
"It's just fun to be out here with the best, compete against the best," Griffen said. "It's an honor, and I'm blessed to be out here."
Five of the Vikings six Pro Bowl participants were defensive players, including three players who made their second appearance in as many seasons in Griffen, Smith and Anthony Barr. Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph made their all-star debuts, and Cordarrelle Patterson participated in his second career Pro Bowl after being selected as a kickoff return specialist.
Barr said he appreciated seeing so many familiar faces alongside him.
"Everybody played great," Barr said. "Everson played great per usual, Xav' had a good play, so it was good – it was good to see those guys out there."
In addition to Griffen's splashy performance on defense, Smith had five tackles. Joseph and Barr recorded three tackles apiece, including one tackle for loss by Barr. The play came shortly before halftime. Dalton connected on a short pass to Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, whom Barr stopped for a loss of 3.
"They make it easy when they switch man-to-man on the screen – it makes you look good," Barr said. "So it was a good call by Coach, I executed the play, and unfortunately they did go down and score [a field goal] on that drive. But it was a good play."
The Vikings throughout the evening were the thorn in Ajayi's side; the running back was tackled seven times by players in purple helmets.
Among the more entertaining plays of the game was one at Ajayi's expense near the end of the third quarter. As Ajayi received the ball and tried to dodge and spin his way through a hole, both Joseph and Griffen got their hands on him. Rather than a simple tackle, the pair carried Ajayi between them for a few yards, garnering a reaction from the 60,000-plus fans in attendance.
"We both picked him up, had fun, got the crowd into it," Joseph said with a smile.
"I don't know, we just wanted to let him fly that time," Griffen added.
Rhodes' biggest play came early on in the game, when he broke up a deep pass by Alex Smith intended for Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton.
"I just played off. I feel like it was going to be a double move," Rhodes said. "They were backed up in their end zone, so I feel like they were trying to go deep, so I just sat there and waited on him."
The fourth-year cornerback didn't have the five interceptions he jokingly predicted for himself earlier in the week, but he said afterward how much he enjoyed the experience and allowed himself to soak it all in.
"I was just appreciative about everything that was going on," Rhodes said. "It was just a good experience. We all played well."
Despite a valiant effort – and late comeback – given by the NFC defense, it wasn't quite enough to stop the AFC squad, which came out on top of the 20-13 final score.
The game's top performance awards were given to Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander on defense and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce on offense. Kelce caught three passes for 36 yards and a touchdown, also converting a first down with a 7-yard reception on a fake field goal attempt.
"We were calling the fake, but you only get so much time to go over your assignments," Smith said of the play. "I thought we had him stopped, and they had a little bit of a hold on our linebacker.
"We kept it close and put on a good show for people, but I still would have liked to win," Smith added.
Griffen helped with the 'show' that Smith spoke of even between plays.
Inside the final two minutes of the game, the officials took a few minutes to review a forced fumble after a Kirk Cousins interception. Fans grew restless while waiting for the call, and Odell Beckham, Jr. and Griffen began dancing on the field and showing off their moves.
Both players received some time in the spotlight on the videoboard.
"I'm just actin' a fool – just using my personality and showing the fans what I'm about," Griffen said with a laugh. "Just trying to put on a show and entertain."
Despite walking away with the loss, all six Vikings players were grateful for the opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl and share the experience with their Minnesota teammates.
Patterson, who contributed on special teams, gave a shout out to the Vikings presence on defense.
"It says a lot about [Head Coach Mike Zimmer] and his defense," Patterson said. "Those boys come to work each and every week. I'm just proud of those guys and all the hard work they gave through the whole year."
Griffen described his second Pro Bowl experience as "unbelievable."
"I'm very blessed to be out there with six of the best guys that made the Pro Bowl," Griffen said. "Just being with those guys as my teammates, it's a blessing to be out here. I never take a snap for granted.
"I still feel like we should have won that game, but it didn't happen," he added. "It's all right – we're going to come out fighting next time."