Pro Bowl Skills Challenge: Adam Thielen has an arm, dodgeball takes center stage and all the highlights
Check out all the action of the NFL's fun skills challenge
Some of the best players in the NFL took the stage on Thursday night to battle for AFC vs. NFC supremacy. But while the actual Pro Bowl is still days away, these teams of 10 competed in a series of events called the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. Receivers got to show off their hands, quarterbacks their accuracy, and more, before the entire thing came down to a can't-miss dodgeball competition, as it always does.
Read on to see all the highlights and find out more about the winners.
Mitchell Trubisky and Mike Evans got out to a rough start, with Trubisky particularly having trouble placing the ball over the wall erected to test the receivers' ability to make a leaping catch. Once Evans tagged out, Russell Wilson went to work, showing impeccable placement on passes to Adam Thielen, who blazed through the course and got the NFC home at 1:25.8 on the clock.
Next up was the AFC, with Colts teammates Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron using their decided advantage to get through the course in 45 seconds before turning things over to Deshaun Watson and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster displayed his great hands and snagged a tough diving catch to close things out at 1:22, giving the AFC the win.
Biggest takeaway: Russell Wilson and JuJu Smith-Schuster would run this gauntlet in negative-30 seconds.
The competition threw a new wrinkle at this event, mixing in one non-QB with two QBs on each side. First up was the AFC's Von Miller, who first tried to go short to no avail, then threw up some ugly ducks deep. He did manage to collect two points on short passes after that but couldn't hit anything else.
The NFC then threw their non-QB out there, with Adam Thielen just missing on some two-point passes before getting one in the mid-range. He then attacked the deeper targets, scoring a three-pointer, missing on the deep rainbows to the fours at the corners but just getting a five-point target moving high across the field before the buzzer, finishing with 10 points.
Then the QBs got their chance, with Deshaun Watson immediately attacking the corners, scoring one four-pointer, scoring a one-pointer on the short target, then again trying for the deep targets. After hitting a pair of threes and the other four deep, Watson finished with 15 points.
Mitchell Trubisky also attacked the deep targets once his clock started, hitting both four-point corner targets quickly. However, he wasn't quite sure he got the second so threw another to be sure. He then got a three before taking aim at the five-point moving target, and though he almost got it, the target dipped on his best pass and left him flummoxed, finishing with 11 points.
With the AFC down four heading into the Andrew Luck vs. Russell Wilson matchup, Luck said his strategy was to "hit some targets, I guess." But he ended up repeating the previous QBs' strategy, going for the deep four-pointers. He quickly got the one on the left but struggled with his accuracy to the right. After collecting a one-point target he had trouble finding any others, and his five-point finish left Wilson needing just two points to get the win for the NFC.
Wilson got that, and more. He got the win on his first pass, hitting the left four-point target. He also had trouble when taking aim for the right four-pointer, but used an excellent pass that crushed the five-pointer to get back on track, then nailed the four-pointer that was giving him trouble one pass later. After collecting some more of the lower point targets, Wilson finished with a total of 19, giving the NFC a blowout win, 40-22.
Biggest takeaway: Adam Thielen is twice the quarterback of Andrew Luck.
In this event, the whole team worked together to fill up two dunk tanks with DeMarcus Ware and Brian Urlacher perched atop them. Then the teams tried to hit the target and dunk the former great for what seemed like 10 minutes (but was probably more like 30 seconds), and the AFC just barely managed to dunk Urlacher first. This feels like a one-and-done event; maybe we can replace it with ?
Biggest takeaway: What was this?
Here's always a fun one. Each five-man team runs through a series of events to test different aspects of their athleticism, strength and speed. Kyle Williams and Ryan Kerrigan started things off on the coach push, shoving the tackling dummies loaded with one coach each down the track. Then Bobby Wagner and James Conner ran the fumble scramble, with the AFC taking the lead. Myles Garrett destroyed the heavy bags against Akeim Hicks, then Jamal Adams easily outpaced George Kittle on the wall section. All that was left was for Denzel Ward to use the big lead his team gave him to outsprint Saquon Barkley to the finish line.
Biggest takeaway: Kyle Williams is one strong individual, and James Conner is a little cocky for a guy who was only tasked with picking up fumbles (which in reality he shouldn't have to do much of anyway).
So the AFC took a meaningless 3-1 lead into the final event. Why is it meaningless? Because the dodgeball portion is worth three points, so as long as one team doesn't sweep the first four events, it's always going to come down to dodgeball. Lucky for us, it's always the most fun to watch. When else can you watch NFL players compete in something you did as a kid with about the same amount of success?
And the NFC decided to make it even more interesting this year, giving us a best-of-three dodgeball competition. In Game 1, Mitchell Trubisky was immediately eliminated before the game slowed down. But the AFC quickly picked off each member of the five-man NFC team. However, the guy left just happened to be the hardest guy to find on a football field: Saquon Barkley. But the AFC eventually finished him off when Eric Ebron caught his throw to take a 1-0 lead.
In Game 2, a flurry of action in the middle of the game left the NFC up 3-2, then they attacked Myles Garrett with two throws simultaneously to eliminated him. That left Jamal Adams against three guys: Bobby Wagner, George Kittle and Adam Thielen. After a bit of a standoff, Adams tried to deflect a pass with his own ball but dropped it, meaning he was eliminated. That left us tied 1-1 heading into the final round of dodgeball.
For the final, the teams one-upped to a 6-on-6 battle, which was defined early by a lot of hesitation and a lot of missed passes. But the AFC players ended up dropping like flies, and the NFC managed to eliminate every single one of them without losing a player, winning the competition and the cash prize. Adam Thielen got the killshot on Deshaun Watson to close it out.
Biggest takeaway: The AFC should have spent more time dodging wrenches to prepare for this event.
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