After the NFC jumped out in front 10-7 in the Pro Bowl’s initial 16 minutes, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson briefly returned the lead to the AFC by reading Giants quarterback Eli Manning’s eyes in zone coverage and picking off Eli’s pass, which was intended for Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Johnson beat everyone to the house for a 42-yard pick six, putting the AFC up 14-10 early in the second quarter.
The NFC rallied back on its next drive, keyed by a BeastMode run out of Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch shed five tackles for a vicious 12-yard gain, easily the best run of a Pro Bowl that has so far been decidedly pass happy.
Two snaps after Lynch’s run, Eli hit Giants teammate Victor Cruz for a nine-yard touchdown on an in route out of the slot, giving the NFC the lead back at 17-14. Cruz, as he is known to do, performed a quick salsa dance in the end zone to celebrate.
Trailing by three points midway through the second quarter, the AFC replaced Peyton Manning at quarterback with Matt Schaub of the Texans. On a 40-yard bomb attempt intended for Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, Schaub was intercepted by Falcons safety William Moore. Moore returned the pick 27 yards to the NFC 28.
Eli got aggressive with under three minutes remaining in the first half. He noticed Rudolph in Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali’s coverage down the right sideline, waved Rudolph to continue his route downfield, and hit him for a deep gain of 52 behind a lumbering Hali.
The first flag of the game was called on Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey toward the end of the second quarter. When explaining the penalty, official Ed Hochuli made sure to announce that “Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl.” (Yes, Hochuli really said that.)
Bailey was covering Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson in the end zone when whistled, so the ball was placed at the AFC’s one-yard line.
Lynch punched it in from a yard out, increasing the NFC’s lead to 24-14. Eli led yet another touchdown drive to close out the half, going 75 yards in the final 68 seconds with a three-yard scoring strike to Rudolph to cap it off.
As of halftime, top performers in the 2013 Pro Bowl so far have included Rudolph (five catches, game-high 122 yards, one touchdown), Jackson (five catches, 86 yards, one touchdown) and Cruz (game-high eight catches, 66 yards, touchdown).
Through two quarters, Rudolph is the favorite for Pro Bowl MVP.