HONOLULU — Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera came halfway around the globe and kept up his gambling ways.
Deciding against an extra point to force overtime, Rivera called his own player’s number on the 2-point try—and Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert delivered by slamming into the end zone to give Team Rice a 22-21 victory over Team Sanders on Sunday at Aloha Stadium.
DeMarco Murray’s 20-yard touchdown catch pulled Team Rice within a point with 41 seconds left. But Riverboat Ron left his offense on the field, and Tolbert made him look like a genius.
Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, who had a 64-yard field goal during the regular season, was short on a 67-yard attempt as time expired.
The NFL brought in Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice as team captains to draft the teams, and tweaked a couple of rules to try to spice up a game that has come under fire in recent years for its quality of play and effort.
From the opening series, when Saints quarterback Drew Brees—the starter for Team Rice—was hit from the blind side on consecutive snaps, players seemed to be giving effort.
But the execution wasn’t always there. With rain falling for much of the game, the teams combined for eight turnovers, including six interceptions. Philadelphia’s Nick Foles, the second-year player making his first Pro Bowl appearance, was the only quarterback without a pick.
Rivera kept up his Riverboat Ron ways after a Foles’ touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, calling a successful fake punt on a run by Tolbert to keep a drive alive. Team Rice advanced past midfield before Miami cornerback Brent Grimes intercepted Alex Smith.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a game-high 12 solo tackles for Team Sanders.
Panthers/Team Sanders quarterback Cam Newton, booed during the 2012 Pro Bowl when he completed 9-of-27 passes and threw three interceptions, was 8-of-17 passing for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception after taking over for starter Andrew Luck.
Newton scored on a 1-yard sneak in the second quarter, which would have looked good a couple of weeks earlier when Newton and the Panthers were stuffed at the goal line twice in a playoff loss to San Francisco.
Following his touchdown run, Newton saluted Sanders with Prime Time’s touchdown dance and continued his own tradition by finding a Panthers fan in the front row—a young boy wearing a Newton jersey—and handing him the ball.
Newton didn’t get a lot of help.
He was charged with an interception in the first half when Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden took the ball away from Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson. It appeared Jackson had possession of the ball and lost it, which should have been a fumble.
Newton also was victimized by a couple of dropped passes by receivers—on a bomb at the end of the first half that hit A.J. Green in the hands, and on a slant pass in the end zone that Dez Bryant couldn’t pull in.
There were a couple of interesting moments for the Panthers’ Honolulu contingent. On Tolbert’s 7-yard run in the first half, he barreled into Kuechly, knocking him backward.
It appeared Kuechly tackled Tolbert high to save his teammate’s legs.
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who has been a gunner on the Panthers’ punt coverage team, dropped Kansas City returner Dexter McCluster—Hardy’s teammate at Mississippi on a fourth quarter punt.
Players appeared to escape serious injuries during the game.
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd left the game in the first quarter after tweaking his back, but tweeted that he was OK. Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston, one of 10 Chiefs players in the game, sustained an elbow injury, the extent of which was unknown.