Peppers, Hester help NFC claim Pro Bowl victory

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Peppers, Hester help NFC claim Pro Bowl victory

Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
Posted 9:55 p.m. Updated 10:54 p.m.

Associated Press

HONOLULU - MVP DeAngelo Hall had one of his team's five interceptions and returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown to help the NFC match a Pro Bowl scoring record in a 55-41 victory over turnover-prone AFC in a game that was not nearly as interesting as the final would indicate.

AFC quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel each threw first-half interceptions to help the NFC blow open a 42-0 lead in a performance ugly even by the historically low standards of this game.

Fittingly for this strange contest, center Alex Mack of Cleveland scored the final touchdown on a 67-yard pass play that featured two laterals with 16 seconds left.

Carolina's Jon Beason returned the fifth interception thrown by the AFC, and second by Matt Cassel, 59 yards for the NFC's final touchdown to match the single-team scoring record set in the NFC's 55-52 victory in 2004.

New England coach Bill Belichick, after his Super Bowl favorite Patriots lost to the New York Jets in the divisional playoffs, had to watch his AFC squad muddle through the one-sided first half.

Pro Bowls are, by their nature, laid-back affairs, seemingly played at half speed by players whose biggest concern is to get on the plane home without injury.

The AFC, though, took that attitude to an uncomfortable extreme early on before coming back to outscore the NFC 41-13.

The NFC led 42-0 after Steven Jackson waltzed through the AFC defense for a 21-yard touchdown - and there still was 4 12 minutes left in the second quarter.

Rivers, starting in place of injured Tom Brady, was picked off twice in the first quarter, the second by Hall.

Manning, in his 11th Pro Bowl, came on briefly in relief and his second pass was picked off. Then Cassel got his chance and quickly joined in the spirit of things, throwing his second pass of the game directly into the hands of Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield.

But just when it appeared it would be the most one-sided game in Pro Bowl history, eclipsing the Joe Theismann-led 45-3 NFC rout of the AFC in 1984, the AFC scored three touchdowns in a row. The last came on the game's seventh turnover, when Devin Hester tried to hand the kickoff return to Hall, but the ball fell to the turf. Montell Owens of Jacksonville scooped it up and ran it in 10 yards for the score to make it 42-21 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

With his seven extra points, tying a Pro Bowl record, along with two field goals David Akers moved ahead of Morten Andersen (45) for most Pro Bowl points with 52. The Philadelphia kicker would have had more but his 36-yard field goal try in the fourth quarter bounced off the right upright.

A tropical downpour preceded the game but subsided just before kickoff as the game returned to its traditional home in Hawaii after a one-year detour to Miami .

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick started but played only the first quarter, completing 5 of 10 passes for 59 yards.

Adrian Peterson rushed for 80 yards in 14 carries for the NFC, including a 14-yarder to set a Pro Bowl record with four career rushing touchdowns. Atlanta got good performances from Matt Ryan (9 of 13 for 118 yards and two touchdowns with an interception), Michael Turner (eight carries for 53 yards) and Roddy White (five catches for 69 yards).

Notes

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers recorded the only sack for the NFC, Miami's Randy Starks had the only sack for the AFC. ... A 70-yard punt by Mat McBriar of Dallas in the first quarter tied for second-longest in Pro Bowl history. ... The state of Hawaii is paying the NFL about 4 million this season and next to keep the Pro Bowl team in Honolulu. Location for the contest is up in the air after 2012. ... Peterson had been tied with three career rushing TDs with Earl Campbell, Chuck Muncie and Mike Alstott. ... Tony Gonzalez added to his Pro Bowl record for career receptions (42) and moved into first in TD catches with his sixth. ... The attendance of 49,338 was just shy of a sellout.

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DL Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

DL Akiem Hicks sees Tom Brady qualities in Jay Cutler

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Akiem Hicks has spent the better part of his four-year NFL career intent on annihilating quarterbacks. The defensive lineman also has spent those four years in the presence of two of the greats of this or any NFL era – Drew Brees in New Orleans and Tom Brady in New England.

He has seen some of what makes them great. And since joining the Bears last March, Hick has seen similar traits in his current quarterback – Jay Cutler.

“They have those intangibles,” Hicks told CSNChicago.com on Thursday. “All the stats that you see – the 4,000-yard seasons, the 50-touchdown [seasons] – they also have things that people don’t get to really get to see all the time. It’s something when you’re close to it and see it all the time… . Tom Brady, for instance. This is a real leader.

“And I see the same qualities in Jay Cutler – somebody who knows how to motivate his guys, knows when to get on his guys’ heads, all that. You see it all the time in practice and then it translates into the game. Guys believe in them more.”

Brady has won twice as many Super Bowls than Cutler has playoff games. The two are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.

But Hicks’ assessment of Cutler is not the first by a teammate to focus on the “L” word – Leadership. As Hicks says of Brady and Brees, outsiders do not see what teammates say. And that is the bigger point.

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

Bears camp shorts: Jay Cutler pick-free, QB's running, 'free hugs'

BOURBONNAIS — During a “team” session in Wednesday’s first practice of Bears 2016 training camp, cornerback Tracy Porter made a perfect break on a route by wide receiver Eddie Royal. The defensive back battled Royal for the ball, which then fell incomplete.

It was as close as anyone on the defense came to intercepting a Jay Cutler pass.

That wouldn’t really command much attention were it not that Cutler opened camp last year going 11 practices before throwing an interception in a drill, 7-on-7 or full-team session. It proved a foreshadowing of perhaps the single most important step forward by Cutler.

Obviously this is practice; it doesn’t count any more than preseason games do. But to dismiss any step toward ball security as insignificant is perspective-lite. The Bears track practice stats as part of their analytics for a reason, and “you play the way you practice” is a bromide of long standing for a reason. Had Cutler been throwing multiple picks every practice, the hand-wringing would have been epic.

[MORE: Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp]

Cutler did follow his improved ball-security camp by opening the season throwing interceptions in his first two games. Against Green Bay. Against Arizona. Against the No. 7 and No. 3 interception defenses in the NFL last year. He eventually threw four interceptions over his first six games — tying the lowest pick number through the first six games of any year in his 10-year career. The other year he had just four was 2011 — the year Cutler posted the best interception percentage (2.2) of his career. Last season was his second-best (2.3).

Reducing Cutler’s interceptions was THE primary specific targeted by Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains last offseason. What began in training camp carried over into the season.

- Jeremy Langford was haunted by a couple of costly pass drops last season, and improved receiving was a priority all offseason for the second-year running back. On Wednesday he consistently showed excellent receiving skills, wresting one catch away from linebacker Danny Trevathan.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

- Rookie Cody Whitehair stepped in at left guard with the No. 1 unit while Ted Larsen was dealing with a calf injury. On Wednesday, Larsen and Whitehair each were working at both guard and center as the Bears develop both versatility and competition levels at the interior-line spots….

- The Bears won’t be running heavy doses of read-options but that isn’t exempting quarterbacks from working on their running techniques along with backs and receivers, cutting, running and being buffeted by blocking dummies under the vociferous directions of running backs coach Stan Drayton.

- Think a little courtesy doesn’t help? A young boy stood along the ropes on Wednesday holding up a large sign, “Free hugs 4 Bears.” Yes, he did give out a couple of hugs and got some autographs and smiles in return.

Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp

Kevin White not looking like a rookie as Bears open training camp

BOURBONNAIS — Call it a linebacker’s worst nightmare. Twice.

First it was outside linebacker Lamarr Houston, who found himself with wide receiver Kevin White on a pass route that made the wideout — he of 4.35 speed in the 40 — the coverage responsibility of a 274-pound defender whose specialty is going after quarterbacks.

White streaked away from Houston and caught Jay Cutler’s pass for a win for the offense.

Two snaps later it was inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, whose first NFL interception was of a Cutler pass while Freeman was a member of the Indianapolis Colts, and who suddenly became the latest Bear defender to understand that with White, “if he’s even, he’s leavin’." To his credit, Freeman never lost sight of White, but neither was the overmatched linebacker more than a minor annoyance on the route that ended with another completion from Cutler.

“You know I think having our receivers out there healthy and able to practice, whether it’s Kevin or Alshon [Jeffery] or even Eddie Royal,” head coach John Fox said. “I think you feel the difference when they are out there playing.”

[MORE: Rough first camp day for Kyle Long, Bears No. 1 draft pick Leonard Floyd]

(Motion seconded by Messrs. Houston, Freeman.)

White was not done looking like anything but an inexperienced young player who’d missed his rookie season and virtually all of training camp with a stress fracture to his left leg. He made a twisting grab of another Cutler toss in the 7-on-7 drill, and later worked himself open on a broken play, making a sliding catch to save a pass from Cutler on the run.

Cutler and White spent time together in the offseason, away from football, and one result is the receiver understanding what his quarterback needs and demands.

“If he wants me at 9 yards, at 10 yards, come back down the line or run back to him, that’s what I have to do,” White said. “We’re continuing to do that.”

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!

White was practicing late last season before the Bears opted to leave him shut down after their season all but ended with the disappointing losses to San Francisco and Washington. The lost season set him behind on his learning curve, particularly given his relative inexperience playing at the highest level at West Virginia.

But the Bears also gave White’s injury time to heal rather than rush their No. 7-overall draft choice onto the field. The time off allowed more than just the stress-fracture surgery to mend.

“I had a whole year to recover, mentally and physically,” White said. “If we’d had had this talk last year, it would have mentally been a little rough as far as getting on my routes and trying not to run with a limp. And obviously taking a hit.

“But I’ve had a whole year to get it right. I thank the organization for giving me the time, and so I’m ready mentally and physically.”