Vikings Pro Bowlers Implement ‘Backyard Football’ During Downpour

When some of the biggest names of the NFL hit the field for the Pro Bowl, it didn’t seem to matter what position was next to that name.

After two quarters of playing in pouring rain, both teams had a little second-half fun.

From running backs Alvin Kamara (Saints) and Saquon Barkley (Giants) playing defensive line to Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans getting in at corner and Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey nabbing the final touchdown of the game for the AFC, creativity was the name of the game.

Vikings defensive teammates Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr got involved with likely the craziest play of the afternoon. Midway through the fourth quarter, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson targeted Browns receiver Jarvis Landry but was picked off by Evans.

Evans scrambled a bit before pitching a lateral pass back to Barr, who dropped the wet ball after contact with Landry. The football was recovered by Smith, who then threw a lateral pass to Barkley. The rookie showed off quick feet and spin moves, getting to the right sideline and back across the field before tossing the ball over Landry’s head to Smith, who picked up 15 yards.

“Evans, that was a nice play – he was playing some man coverage there and made the play, and then I was hoping we could score,” Smith said after the game. “I should have pitched it before getting wrapped up. We definitely had some fun pitching the ball back and forth.

“There were some exciting plays out there,” Smith added. “I think it probably would have been a little better if it wasn’t so rainy, but that’s part of it. It was still fun.”

The fourth-quarter game of hot potato wasn’t the only trickery that occurred at Camping World Stadium.

After Adam Thielen impressed in the passing portion of the Skills Showdown earlier this week, the NFC wrote in a double-pass play for the Vikings receiver. Early in the third quarter and with his team down 17-0, Thielen received a pass from Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and launched it across the field in search of Kamara.

The ball was picked off, however, by Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, Jr.

“I was soaking wet, the ball was soaking wet, and the wind was against me. I’m not a man of excuses, but it wasn’t in my favor, that’s for sure,” Thielen laughed of the play.

The game didn’t go quite in favor of the NFC, which fell 26-7 to an AFC squad that jumped to an early lead at the hands of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The second-year passer, who joined the all-star roster after losing in the AFC championship last week, was named Pro Bowl MVP after finishing with 156 yards through the air and a passer rating of 114.

Following Mahomes under center for the AFC were Watson and Andrew Luck.

The Colts and Vikings didn’t play each other during the regular season, but Luck didn’t escape a sack by Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Luckily – pun intended – for the quarterback, Hunter didn’t take him to the ground but was credited with a three-yard loss.

Hunter and Luck exchanged a friendly handshake after the third-down play that forced the AFC to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Jets kicker Jason Myers.

“We were having fun out there, and I did my technique, went up-field and came back, he was right there. That’s how that ended,” laughed Hunter, who added that it’s “definitely” hard to pull up last minute, even in the Pro Bowl setting.

“You know you’re playing against the best of the best at each position, so mentally you just have to go out there and use your technique and rush the passer,” he said.

Hunter was the lone NFC defender to notch a sack, while seven AFC players contributed to a total of seven sacks for their squad (Brandon Williams split a takedown with Casey Heyward).

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played the majority of the first half, was sacked four times; Trubisky was sacked once and Cowboys QB Dak Prescott was sacked twice for a loss of 13 yards.

The game also featured five interceptions – three by the AFC and two by the NFC, including Evans’ takeaway.

Watching some of his offensive teammates make plays on defense gave Thielen the itch to get in on the action.

“I saw some guys go out there and was like, ‘Man, I should really be out there because I’m really a defensive guy at heart,’ ” Thielen said. “So I probably should have showed my stuff, but I’m going to hold [off on that], maybe for the regular season sometime.”

Thielen and his Vikings teammates appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Pro Bowl, despite the messy conditions and coming out on the short end of the score.

“There’s a bunch of good guys in here, a bunch of guys I have a lot of respect for during the season and seeing them on tape,” Thielen said. “And then you get around them and see how good of people they are, what good of guys they are, and it just creates a little more respect for this game and the hard work these guys put in. They’re not just great football players but good people off the field, as well.”

Hunter gave a positive review of his debut in the all-star game.

“It was fun. It was good interaction with all the players from across the league – and with the fans, that was the main thing,” Hunter said. “It was really just fun to have my family come out here and watch us and interact with us and have a good time.

“It’s an extra game to go out there and bring back the feeling of being in-season,” he added. “It was fun just being out there with everybody.”

And in the final game before buckling down and looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, it didn’t hurt to get in a little fun, as well.

“You’ve got to have fun with this game,” Thielen said. “It’s a kid’s game, and we’re fortunate enough and blessed enough to be able to play it – so why not have fun with it and go out there and play a little backyard football?”

Four Vikings players took part in the Pro Bowl game hosted in Orlando, Fla.

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