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Vikings Thielen, Smith Score Both NFC TDs in Pro Bowl

A pair of Vikings teammates – on both sides of the ball – scored touchdowns in the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Adam Thielen scored the game's first points in his first-ever Pro Bowl, reeling in an 8-yard pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the first quarter.

Harrison Smith added a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter to put the NFC up by 14, but the AFC rallied late for a 24-23 victory on Sunday in rainy Orlando.  

Thielen and teammate Kyle Rudolph represented the Vikings as starters for the NFC's offense, and just two weeks after Minnesota's exciting defeat of New Orleans, the teammates found themselves catching passes from Brees.

The NFC squad won the pregame coin toss, started with the ball and drove quickly down the field. On second-and-goal from the AFC 8, Brees threw over the middle to Thielen, who muscled his way into the end zone.

"I had a slant, so I knew that if he just gave me a chance, I could make a play. Obviously Drew … put a perfect ball on me, and the rest was pretty easy," Thielen said.

The score was Thielen's second catch of the game after hauling in a 6-yard pass from Brees earlier on the drive.

Brees targeted Rudolph twice, as well, hitting the tight end for gains of 10 and 16, respectively.

Rudolph led the NFC in receiving with 70 yards on seven catches from Brees, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Rams QB Jared Goff. It was the tight end's first trip back to the Pro Bowl since after the 2012 season, when he garnered MVP honors in the game to end his second pro season.

"It's cool to see [Adam] get a touchdown, get in the end zone," Smith said. "I was hoping to get Rudy in there, too, 'Zay' (Xavier Rhodes) and Linval [Joseph], so I guess we could have gotten a couple more."

Smith, who initially was considered a Pro Bowl snub, proved Sunday why he deserved the recognition.

The AFC went on fourth down twice on its second possession, converting the first thanks to a penalty on Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels. On the next set of downs, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a deep shot on fourth-and-7 from the AFC 41.

Smith read the play and leapt up to snag the ball, then sprinted up-field. The safety was able to dodge tackle attempts by AFC offensive players and returned the interception 79 yards for a touchdown, the longest pick-6 in Pro Bowl history.

"I had to go back to my old running back days and keep my feet and get in the end zone," Smith said. "The guys did a good job blocking for me, so there was enough room to get there."

Smith's score gave the NFC a 17-3 lead over the AFC, and a Graham Gano field goal just before halftime gave the team a healthy margin.

In addition to Smith's splash play, Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph contributed to a stout first-half defense for the NFC. Rhodes recorded four tackles and a pass defensed, and Joseph added a tackle of Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt in the second quarter.

Pro Bowl or not, Joseph didn't hold back.

"There's no medium for him," Smith said of his teammate. "It's all 'go' when he gets behind the white lines."

Joseph laughed when asked about his physicality.

"Ya'll know how I am," Joseph said. "I run to the ball, I gave max effort, and I made a play. What else do you want me to do?"

Smith and Rhodes each broke up passes by Roethlisberger on the AFC's first possession.

The NFC was forced to punt after going three-and-out to start the second quarter, but Chiefs return man Tyreek Hill muffed the catch, and it was recovered by Cardinals rookie Budda Baker. The turnover gave the NFC a chance to kick a 43-yard field goal for a 20-3 halftime lead.

The AFC rallied with two touchdown receptions by Delanie Walker. The Titans tight end caught a 4-yard pass from Alex Smith in the third quarter and an 18-yard pass from Derek Carr with 1:31 remaining. An extra point by Chris Boswell after Walker's second touchdown provided the final margin.

Despite the loss, Thielen said he was grateful for the experience of his first NFL Pro Bowl .

"It was unbelievable. You really just get spoiled out here with all the players – getting knowledge from them, just getting to know some of these guys that you play against every year, sometimes twice a year," Thielen said. "It's just such a blessing, and I'm so thankful for the opportunity."

The five Vikings teammates enjoyed the opportunity to play one more game together before heading into the offseason and turning the page to look ahead at the 2018 season.

"Kind of take some time, let the body rest up, and then slowly ramp back up. I always get anxious," Smith said. "I get ready to come back early, because football's fun."

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