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Defense leads NFC to 23-17 Pro Bowl win

Derrick Brooks was just happy to be on the winning side for a change in the Pro Bowl. Being selected the game's outstanding player was a bonus.

HONOLULU (Feb. 12, 2006) -- Derrick Brooks was just happy to be on the winning side for a change in the Pro Bowl. Being selected the game's outstanding player was a bonus.

Brooks and the NFC's solid defense gave the NFL's so-called inferior conference something to feel good about Sunday, making the big plays in a sloppy 23-17 victory in a game that featured 10 turnovers -- six by the favored AFC.

Brooks, the Tampa Bay linebacker playing in his ninth straight Pro Bowl, made the biggest play, returning an interception 59 yards for a touchdown. He received a car on the field shortly after the game ended.

"I stand real humble," Brooks said. "I've been here a few times, and I don't have many wins. It was just important for me to get the win. Obviously, this award is a reflection of the NFC defense. We went out there and played a fine game."

Neil Rackers kicked a 22-yard field goal with 6:29 left to give the NFC a 20-17 lead. With Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback, the NFC moved 59 yards before its drive stalled, and coach John Fox was booed for opting for the field goal on fourth-and-2.

But it paid off.

Steve McNair mishandled two snaps from center after that, and the NFC recovered both. Jeremiah Trotter fell on the second one at the AFC 18, and Rackers kicked a 20-yard field goal with 1:10 left to complete the scoring.

The AFC reached the NFC 49 before McNair threw three incompletions and was sacked by Michael Strahan on the game's final play.

"It all goes to the players because there isn't a lot of scheming," Fox said. "They went out and made plays."

AFC teams have won five of the past six Super Bowls including Pittsburgh's 21-10 triumph over Seattle on Feb. 5, and the NFC had lost four of the last five Pro Bowls entering this one.

"That was fun -- a little sloppy at times, but some of the most exciting plays I've seen all year," Hasselbeck said. "Coach Fox promised, by the end of the week, 'We'll put a smile on your face.' All the Seattle guys were smiling."

It was the lowest-scoring Pro Bowl since the AFC's 23-10 victory in 1999. The teams averaged a combined 73.7 points in the past six Pro Bowls including the NFC's 55-52 victory two years ago and the AFC's 38-27 triumph last year.

That didn't surprise Hasselbeck.

"We all had a feeling it might go that way, the lack of preparation we put into it," he said. "We were just trying to let the playmakers make plays."

The series that went to its present format in 1971 is tied 18-18. NFC players earned $40,000 each while the AFC players collected $20,000. Fox and members of his coaching staff earned $15,000 apiece; AFC coach Mike Shanahan and his staff received $10,000 each.

Shanahan knew why his team lost.

"It's hard to win when you have six turnovers," he said.

Brooks made the game's sixth interception when he picked off a pass by Trent Green and ran it back with 5:01 to play in the third quarter, giving the NFC a 17-10 lead.

The AFC tied it with 12:47 remaining on a 1-yard sneak by Green, capping a 68-yard drive after Champ Bailey recovered a fumble by Santana Moss.

The game was tied 10-10 after an ugly first half. The AFC's Peyton Manning threw three interceptions, the NFC's Hasselbeck and Michael Vick one each, and there were several false starts and overthrows.

Almost as if on cue, a steady rain began falling at kickoff time, although it subsided early in the second quarter.

"I didn't anticipate the rainstorm," Manning said. "That was a shame for the fans and everyone else.

"It was a defensive grind out there, so we came up a little short."

After all the questionable calls in the Super Bowl, another one popped early in this game.

Manning threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers to cap a 45-yard AFC drive following John Lynch's 40-yard interception return. Chambers landed with one foot inbounds after a leaping catch, but field judge Scott Steenson ruled DeAngelo Hall pushed Chambers out.

It didn't appear the Miami receiver could have landed with both feet inbounds had he not been touched, and many in the crowd booed when the play was shown on the video screen.

Hall said he told the officials that the Pro Bowl needs instant replay.

"I told Chris Chambers he got a free gift," Hall said. "He owes me one."

Rackers kicked a 32-yard field goal for the NFC's first points before Shayne Graham connected from 31 yards away.

Vick threw a 14-yard TD pass to Atlanta teammate Alge Crumpler with 2 seconds left in the half. The TD came three plays after Roy Williams intercepted a pass by Manning and ran 11 yards before handing off to Hall, who dashed another 57 yards to the AFC 20.

Manning, in his sixth Pro Bowl and the MVP last year, completed 13 of 26 passes for 139 yards before sitting out the second half. He holds career Pro Bowl records of 12 touchdown passes, 134 attempts, 81 completions and 1,131 yards. His eight interceptions are tied for the most ever.

Hasselbeck was 10-of-17 for 85 yards, and Vick was 4-of-12 for 69 yards. The AFC's Larry Johnson and the NFC's Tiki Barber were the game's top rushers with 33 yards each.

Shaun Alexander, the NFL's Most Valuable Player, dressed for the game, but didn't play because of a sprained right foot. He was injured in Seattle's Super Bowl loss.

An announced crowd of 51,190 attended, marking the 27th straight sellout at Aloha Stadium for the Pro Bowl, moved permanently to Hawaii in 1980.

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