If there was a “Team MVP” award in the Pro Bowl, it might have gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013.
The Buccaneers didn’t have the biggest group of players in the NFL’s all-star game this year, but they might have made the biggest collective impact of any team. With
The game was eventually a lopsided affair, but the AFC actually scored first after a fumble by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on the initial play from scrimmage. It was Vincent Jackson’s 36-yard touchdown catch a few minutes later that tied the game and began the NFC onslaught.
Both Jackson and running back Doug Martin would find the end zone in the game’s second half, the former after Buccaneer teammate Gerald McCoy recovered an AFC fumble. In all, the three-man Tampa Bay contingent accounted for 139 yards from scrimmage, three touchdowns, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
McCoy started for the NFC on defense and played a vast majority of the game in a three-man DT rotation with Chicago’s Henry Melton and Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh. On one highlighted play in the first half, NFC center Jeff Saturday came on to deliver one last snap to AFC quarterback Peyton Manning, his long-time teammate in Indianapolis, and McCoy responded by tackling running back Adrian Foster two yards deep in the backfield.
The final tally of 97 total points was in keeping with the recent Pro Bowl trend of offensive fireworks. However, it was a relatively tight 17-14 game late in the second quarter and both sides appeared to be playing the game at a much higher intensity level than in the last few years. It was during this time that Jackson made a string of big plays to help the NFC pull away. His 22-yard catch over the middle set up the NFC’s go-ahead field goal in the first quarter, and he drew a key pass-interference call on Champ Bailey just before halftime that led to a first-and-goal and Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run.
With Peterson and Lynch getting most of the first half playing time, Martin didn’t see the field until less than a minute was left before halftime. The Buccaneer rookie caught a seven-yard pass on his first play and another five-yarder moments later on the Marshawn Lynch TD drive.
Martin would find the end zone himself in the third quarter on a rather entertaining hookup with another standout NFL rookie. On the first drive of the second half, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled to his left and eventually launched a pass downfield that was intended for Minnesota TE Kyle Rudolph. Martin was in better position to haul it in, however, and he scored on a leaping, twisting 28-yard catch, giving the NFC a 38-14 lead.
Coincidentally, it was Rudolph and his five catches for 122 yards and a score who was named the Pro Bowl MVP, an award that seemed within Jackson’s grasp. It was a well-deserved honor for the second-year Viking, but it’s just as true that the Buccaneers’ three-man Pro Bowl group did as much as any team in the NFC to bring home victory for the conference. Jackson, Martin and McCoy may have many more all-star trips in their future, but they’ll have to work hard to make the same impact they did on Sunday night.