If you didn’t tune in to the 2022 Pro Bowl on Sunday … you made the correct decision.
The NFL’s annual all-star game is a terrible viewing product — glorified slow-motion two-hand touch featuring players who clearly have no interest in actually competing.
And really, why would they? Actual, full-speed football is a rough game. No one wants to get hurt giving their all in a meaningless postseason showcase. It’s understandable. But that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch.
This year’s Pro Bowl did offer a bit more intrigue for New England Patriots fans, however, as quarterback Mac Jones was competing for the first time.
Jones wasn’t on the initial AFC roster, but he made it in as an alternate after Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson bowed out due to injury and Josh Allen (choice) and Joe Burrow (Super Bowl) both were unavailable. And the rookie acquitted himself in the first Pro Bowl appearance of his young career.
Splitting time with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, Jones went 12-for-16 for 112 yards and one touchdown and one interception as the AFC defeated the NFC 41-35 at Allegiant Stadium.
Here are eight thoughts on how Jones and the Patriots’ other three Pro Bowlers performed on Sunday:
1. Jones’ first Pro Bowl snap was a two-point conversion early in the second quarter. He hit Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson on a quick slant to convert.
His second was one he’ll want back. On the first play of the ensuing AFC possession, Jones fired a pass to Travis Kelce that was intercepted by Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.
It was the second time Diggs bested Jones — his former Alabama teammate — this season. He also had a pick-six in the Cowboys’ wild overtime win over the Patriots in Week 6.
Getting on the same page as their receivers clearly was an issue for nearly all of the Pro Bowl QBs. Mahomes, Herbert, Kyler Murray, Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson also threw picks on Sunday.
2. Jones kicked off the second half with a 13-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 6-yard scoring strike to Hunter Renfrow.
It was an excellent play by both Jones, who scrambled to his right and threw a pinpoint pass across his body, and Renfrow, who did a nice job of getting both feet down in bounds.
The Jones-Renfrow connection is one Patriots fans would love to see at some point. Renfrow was viewed as an obvious fit for New England coming out of Clemson, and the unassuming slot receiver has blossomed into a weapon for the Raiders, catching 103 passes for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
Renfrow is entering the final year of his rookie contract, so head coach Bill Belichick could have a shot at him next offseason. In the meantime, expect him to play a starring role in Josh McDaniels’ first Raiders offense.
Here’s a breakdown of Jones’ targets in the game:
Tyreek Hill: 3 of 3, 15 yards
Stefon Diggs: 3 of 4, 29 yards
Diontae Johnson: 1 of 1, 27 yards
Travis Kelce: 1 of 2, 10 yards, INT
Mark Andrews: 1 of 2, 8 yards
Najee Harris: 1 of 1, 7 yards
Hunter Renfrow: 1 of 2, 6 yards, TD
Jonathan Taylor: 1 of 1, 4 yards
3. On an earlier incompletion to Renfrow, Jones released his pass as Carolina’s Brian Burns rushed in off the edge. Defenders typically don’t hit quarterbacks — or any players, for that matter — in the Pro Bowl, but we wondered whether Burns would have made an exception after his controversial Week 7 run-in with the Patriots QB.
Burns later “sacked” Jones and was relatively gentle about it, grabbing the back of his jersey rather than knocking him to the turf.
4. Jones made a strong effort this season to appear as boring as humanly possible, but his energetic personality shone through in this setting.
Seen smiling throughout the game, Jones delivered Sunday’s most memorable play when he broke free on a quarterback scramble, sprinted 71 yards into the end zone and then busted out the Griddy, delighting the Las Vegas crowd.
The touchdown didn’t count — officials blew most plays dead when the ball-carrier was touched by any defender — but here’s hoping we see more of this side of Jones in Year 2.
5. Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson and outside linebacker Matthew Judon both started on defense for the AFC. Since Pro Bowl rules require teams to play only a 4-3 defense (with no blitzing or nickel/dime packages), we got the unusual video of Judon playing as an off-the-ball ‘backer. Cleveland’s Myles Garrett and Las Vegas’ Maxx Crosby were the AFC’s starting edge rushers.
Jackson, who was playing in his first Pro Bowl, grabbed a fourth-down, goal-line interception off a drop by San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The ball-hawking cover man also was in coverage on at least two other fourth-down incompletions and broke up a would-be touchdown to CeeDee Lamb.
Jackson leads all NFL players in interceptions (25) since he entered the NFL in 2018. It remains to be seen whether he’ll have a chance to snag another in a Patriots uniform. He’s among several prominent New England players set to hit unrestricted free agency next month.
6. With neither team punting and every drive starting with a fourth-and-15 — a potential onside kick replacement the NFL was trialing — there weren’t many special teams plays in this game. But Matthew Slater still got some run, subbing in at safety on a few occasions.
Slater, who moonlighted as a fill-in defensive back early in his Patriots career, has yet to announce whether he plans to play in 2022. The 36-year-old has been the AFC’s Pro Bowl special teamer in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
7. During warmups, Jones laid out his offseason plans to the hosts of ESPN’s pregame show.
“I think this offseason will be a big part of it, just getting stronger and cleaning up on my diet and all that,” said Jones, who added that he has a soft spot for ice cream. “There’s a lot that’s going to go into it before next season even starts, so that’s the important part: attacking that, and then hopefully a lot of big changes will come, whether it’s mechanics or the playbook. I have a lot of time now to kind of digest everything and kind of take it over how I want to do it.”
Jones also addressed the departure of Josh McDaniels, his offensive coordinator/QBs coach.
“He taught me a lot about football, a lot about life, a lot about the NFL,” Jones said on ESPN. “That’s really important to me. I know he means a lot to a lot of people, and I’m happy for him and his family. We’ll just have to figure out a game plan and move forward and try and be explosive on offense and can get something going again like we did with Josh.”
Assistant QBs coach Bo Hardegree is joining McDaniels in Vegas, meaning the Patriots will need to replace the two coaches who worked most closely with their young passer. Bill O’Brien and Adam Gase have been mentioned as potential McDaniels replacements, but New England has yet to officially fill any of its coaching vacancies.
8. It’s no secret that Jones’ rookie season, while undeniably promising, was not exactly Pro Bowl-caliber. In a ranking of 2021 AFC QBs, he’d probably be no higher than sixth or seventh, behind (in some order) Mahomes, Herbert, Allen, Burrow, Jackson and Derek Carr.
But he’s far from the first less-than-deserving Pro Bowler, and getting the chance to spend a week hanging with and learning from many of the NFL’s best players can only help his development.