The Pro Bowl’s renowned for players not exactly giving it 100 per cent, especially when it comes to physical tackles, and boy, was that ever evident on a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown from Minnesota Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith. In the second quarter, the AFC team decided to go for it on 4th and 7 from their own 41-yard line (something that screams Pro Bowl in its own right, as most coaches aren’t making that call in a meaningful game unless they’re desperate), and Ben Roethlisberger threw it deep. It looks like receiver Antonio Brown ran too far, though, as the pass came down around the NFC’s 21-yard line (travelling about 45 yards in the air, but well behind the intended target), and Smith was the only player in the vicinity. And once he caught the ball, he had a much easier path to the end zone than you’d normally see in a game that meant anything:
?: ESPN pic.twitter.com/qNCGWMMkxr
— NFL (@NFL) January 28, 2018
Yes, a couple of AFC players initially give it a partial effort and get blocked off (but rather gently compared to what you normally see, and they don’t fight the blocks much), but what’s particularly remarkable is how many just jog back, not actually making an effort to stop Smith but just looking like they’re doing something. Titans’ tight end Delanie Walker (#82) is one of the few who actually looks like he’s trying to prevent the touchdown here, racing all the way back to attempt a tackle, but he’s unable to pull Smith down. Just about everyone else loses points for effort (or lack thereof). And it’s funny that, as color analyst Matt Hasselbeck notes on the replay, the smart move for Smith might have been knocking down the ball instead of catching it (creating a turnover on downs and giving the NFC the ball at the AFC 41). But, in a game where no one’s trying that hard to tackle you, running it back becomes a much more viable option.
Sure, there are always a couple of offensive players who don’t do much to try and stop a pick-six in even meaningful games, but this was even more obvious here. And that’s understandable; tackles always carry the potential for injury, and no one wants to get hurt in this kind of an exhibition. But plays like this do further illustrate how far this game is removed from any sort of regular football, which is part of why viewership’s been dropping in recent years. But hey, this gave Smith a nice highlight, even if he didn’t have to work too hard for it. And this game, and plays like this, can be fun to watch if in the right mindset. But if you’re expecting a whole lot of tackling effort, you’re going to be disappointed. Forget it, Jake; it’s the Pro Bowl.