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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 13, 2006

Defense rules the day

2006 Pro Bowl photo gallery
 •  Brooks shows he still has game with MVP outing
 •  Offenses did have their moments

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

NFC tight end Alge Crumpler comes down with a touchdown pass in front of AFC linebacker Shawne Merriman in the second quarter.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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AFC tight end Tony Gonzalez comes down with a reception in front of NFC linebacker Keith Brooking.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Defense crashed the offensive party known as the Pro Bowl yesterday.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Derrick Brooks returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown, and the NFC's stout defense upstaged star quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Trent Green and Steve McNair in a 23-17 victory over the AFC.

"It all goes to the players," NFC coach John Fox said. "There's not a lot of scheming going on, so it wasn't the coaching. I think it was purely to the ability of those players."

A crowd of 50,190 at Aloha Stadium the 26th sellout in 27 games in Hono-lulu watched the NFC defense come up with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries that led to 17 points.

"All those guys were trying to win the MVP," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said of the defensive players. "Somebody must have told them they had a shot on defense, and they were going for it."

The Dan McGuire Player of the Game award went to Brooks, who gave the NFC its first lead, 17-10, in the third quarter when he intercepted Green's pass intended for Antonio Gates and returned it for a touchdown.

"I don't think Trent Green really ever saw me," said Brooks, an 11-year veteran playing in his ninth Pro Bowl. "Once I caught it, I was kind of cruising down, saw a cutback lane, and turned it on. I was very humbled and thankful to get into the end zone for a touchdown."

"You watch Derrick Brooks take back that interception, when he opened that stride up, he looked like he did when he was coming out of Florida State," Fox said.

Brooks' play epitomized the effort of his team yesterday. In the fourth quarter, Detroit's Sean Rogers recovered McNair's fumble on the AFC 48 to preserve a 20-17 lead.

"I was telling guys over there in the fourth quarter, we've got to hold on to get a win," Brooks said. "We had some fun guys this year in the NFC, and I'm just glad I could be a part of it and help contribute to winning."

Less than three minutes later, NFC teammate and Philadelphia's Jeremiah Trotter recovered another McNair fumble on the AFC 18. Seven plays later, the NFC took a 23-17 lead on Neil Rackers' 20-yard field goal with 1:13 remaining in the game.

McNair advanced the AFC to the NFC 49, but was sacked by Michael Strahan to end the game.

"The fans and everybody wants to see big offensive plays," Trotter said. "But it was kind of good the defenses on both teams played well. To go out there and close it out on defense for the NFC was big for us."

Denver Broncos free safety John Lynch set up the AFC's first touchdown when he intercepted Hasselbeck and ran 40 yards to the NFC 44.

Indianapolis' Edgerrin James ran for 22 yards on the drive that was capped by Manning's 16-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Chris Chambers. On the play, Chambers landed with one foot inbounds, but officials ruled that he was pushed out of the end zone by DeAngelo Hall.

Manning, Green and McNair combined to complete 20 of 45 passes for 203 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Manning was intercepted three times.

"I don't feel bad because he's a great player," Chambers said of Manning. "We only had a week of practice, it was raining and the ball was probably a little slippery, and got away from him a little bit."

The NFC responded with Rackers' 32-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3, and Shayne Graham followed with a 31-yard field goal for a 10-7 AFC lead.

Just before the half, Roy Williams intercepted Manning. On the return, Williams lateralled the ball to a streaking Hall, who weaved his way to the AFC 20. The NFC tied the score three plays later when Vick found Atlanta teammate Alge Crumpler for a 14-yard touchdown.

"I was just telling Roy, 'Pitch to me, pitch to me,' " Hall said of the lateral. "When he pitched it to me, he trusted me to do something with it. I was trying to run for my life."

After the NFC took a 17-10 lead on Brooks' interception return, Green's 1-yard touchdown run tied the score at 17 with 12:53 left in the fourth quarter.

The NFC went ahead for good on the next possession with a 13-play, 59-yard drive capped by Rackers' 22-yard field goal. Tiki Barber rushed for 23 yards, and Warrick Dunn added 18 on the drive.

"It's always nice to get opportunities," said Rackers, who finished 3 of 3 on field-goal attempts. "The offense did a good enough job to get us down close, and we got a couple of chip shots and won the game on them."

Darren Sharper and Nathan Vasher each had one interception for the NFC, while Champ Bailey recorded one for the AFC.

Larry Johnson led the AFC rushers with 33 yards on eight carries. Tiki Barber led the NFC with 33 yards on 11 carries.

Seattle Seahawks running back and NFL MVP Shaun Alexander suited up for the game, but did not play because of a sprained right foot.

Reach Brandon Masuoka at bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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