Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen’s first Pro Bowl appearance fell during a year when the game was played somewhere other than Hawaii.
So Olsen didn’t get a week on the beach in Oahu, but he did get two nice keepsakes.
Olsen caught two touchdown passes in a losing effort Sunday as Team (Michael) Irvin beat Team (Cris) Carter 32-28 in front of a sellout crowd of 63,225 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Olsen pulled down scoring passes of 17 and 10 yards from the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Saints’ Drew Brees, and finished with three receptions for 52 yards.
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With Team Carter trailing in the final minute, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looked to Olsen on fourth down, but the pass fell incomplete.
Olsen nearly took home a new truck. Instead, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford got the prize as the Offensive Most Valuable Player after throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
Olsen, who set career highs this season with 84 catches for 1,008 yards, will have to be content with the two game balls he stored away after his touchdowns.
“I kept them both,” Olsen said. “You never know if you’re going to get back. It’s a good memory.”
His second score was a beauty, as he tapped two feet inbounds. Officials originally ruled Olsen out, but the call was reversed after a replay review.
“Two touchdowns, the only thing that would’ve been better is win the game,” Olsen said. “But the whole week was just awesome, whether you win or lose. The whole week was amazing. It was an awesome opportunity to come out here.”
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the other Panthers’ Pro Bowler, had seven tackles, including two stops on consecutive plays in the second quarter. Kuechly, who called the defensive signals for Team Irvin, never crossed paths with Olsen in coverage.
“He didn’t catch any on me, so we’re good. That’s all I was looking for,” Kuechly said. “I was hoping they were going to throw one his way, I was going to try to get my hands on it. They didn’t do it. He caught two touchdowns, played well.”
Houston’s J.J. Watt, a candidate for league MVP, was the Defensive MVP after coming up with two takeaways – an interception and a fumble recovery.
There was plenty of the usual Pro Bowl weirdness.
Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri became the first player to make a field goal on the skinny goal posts – narrowed from the standard 18.6 feet to 14 feet for the game.
He made a 32-yard field goal to start the scoring, then missed a 35-yard extra-point attempt on his next kick. In another move to make the kicking game more competitive, the league pushed the extra point spot from the 2 to the 17.
Vinatieri, who beat the Panthers with a field goal in Super Bowl XXXVIII, ended up missing three of five kicks, including two extra points.
“Not a big fan,” Vinatieri said of the changes.
“You’ve got to hit it really true, right on line. You can’t be off at all. It makes your margin of error much shallower and much more difficult,” Vinatieri added. “I would like to have them leave it alone, but that’s for my own selfish reasons.”
“Competitive” and Pro Bowl continued to appear like a contradiction in terms, despite the NFL’s efforts to add zest to the game by drafting players and tinkering with the kick placements for the second year in a row.
The first boos of the night were directed at several Team Carter defenders, who all converged on a group hug on DeMarco Murray rather than taking the Cowboys running back to the ground during the first series.
A short time later the second boos came down on a group of Seattle Pro Bowlers, who were interviewed in the end zone during a break in the action.
Later in the first half, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham broke the Jimmy Graham Rule when he dunked the ball over the crossbar after his 6-yard, first-half touchdown pass from Stafford. Graham dunked again after a fourth-quarter touchdown catch.
The NFL put in a Graham-inspired rule this season prohibiting players from using the ball as a “prop” during celebrations. Had it been a regular-season game, Graham would have been penalized for taunting and fined several thousand dollars.
“I really wanted to catch one here because this is the only place I can dunk without a flag,” Graham said. “But the league called down and told me not to hang on it, so I didn’t. Maybe they’ll change the rule in the future and I’ll be able to just dunk it like that.”