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2023 Pro Bowl Games: What We Learned from Thursday's competitions

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Thursday's action at the Pro Bowl Games skills competition. The inaugural Pro Bowl Games conclude Sunday with more skills competitions and three flag football games to determine the AFC-NFC winner.


  1. Carr gets hot, leads precision win. Derek Carr, still technically the Las Vegas Raiders quarterback, added a bit of intrigue to the inaugural Pro Bowl Games when he was put on the AFC roster as a replacement for Joe Burrow. On Thursday night, he flexed a bit after showcasing the skills the Raiders will be without soon enough. Carr racked up 31 points in the precision passing event to lead the field of six and propel the AFC to a 71-55 win along with three points in the overall tally. Following his highlight-reel showing, Carr was asked by ESPN’s Ryan Clark if he’d ever been that hot. Without pause, Carr deftly replied, “Not that hot. That’s probably why I’m going somewhere else.” He had a hot hand and a sharp wit on Thursday. Carr’s precision passing showing was 10 points more than the nearest competitor (Ravens QB Tyler Huntley) and drew a nice ovation from the Vegas crowd gathered at the Raiders practice facility. Prior to taking center stage, Carr told NFL Network’s Cam Wolfe he had bid farewell to a few of his teammates, that he was thankful for his time with the club and happy to be able to put on the Silver and Black helmet one last time Sunday in the Pro Bowl’s flag finale. The soon-to-be-departed Raiders QB didn’t elaborate on what went wrong with the franchise. That will come later and so too will his next destination. On Thursday, though, Carr shined among the stars in some familiar confines. 
  2. McLaurin can catch anything. It’s been said that if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. Similarly, Terry McLaurin showed Thursday that if you can make 77 receptions in back-to-back seasons, many of the outstanding variety, you can make a highlight-reel catch of a water balloon, too. McLaurin’s fingertip grab of a water balloon in the first stage of the lightning round was simply exceptional. Yeah, it’s a water balloon, but it was still ridiculously impressive. McLaurin, who was also a member of the NFC offense’s dodgeball-winning contingent, delivered a reminder that just about each of these all-world athletes were the guys that excelled in every athletic endeavor growing up. They were probably the best at kickball or tag or ultimate frisbee -- or a water balloon toss. 
  3. Big men show they’re athletes, too. For those who subscribe to the erroneous stereotype that linemen aren’t exceptional athletes, too, the Browns’ Joel Bitonio and the Bengals’ Trey Hendrickson delivered a master class in proving them wrong. Bitonio and Hendrickson led the winning effort in the high stakes portion of the lightning round in which players had to catch balls from a JUGS machine. As the degree of difficulty grew -- after each catch, a player was given a ball to hold, forcing them to make one-handed grabs while already clutching one or multiple footballs -- Bitonio and Hendrickson clutched up. Hendrickson emerged as the victor, but the two AFC North standouts were hugely impressive. 
  4. Saquon saves NFC, dazzles in dodgeball. Entering a pivotal offseason, Giants running back Saquon Barkley’s agility and elusiveness were front and center for all to see. In a one-on-one showdown with the Saints’ Demario Davis, Barkley was side-stepping Davis’ shots with jaw-dropping maneuvering. Dodgeball or not, it was a marvel to see. Then he used his head, literally, to lead the NFC offense to a victory. Davis looked to have won the matchup when he fired a shot that nailed Barkley, but the Big Blue RB immediately pointed to his head and pointed out that per the official Pro Bowl Games Rulebook (not sure if that exists, actually), head shots are disallowed. Thusly, Saquon led his team to a triumph with some elite footwork and field generalship. It also led to the NFC offense winning the dodgeball tournament and preventing a shutout on the first day of the games. 
  5. An onus on crazy fun is had. The first day of the first-ever Pro Bowl Games was a bit chaotic and all kinds of entertainment. This is the first year of the Pro Bowl Games, after all, and fans and media alike were a bit perplexed by rules and scoring. Still, by night’s end the NFL’s best players were clearly enjoying themselves while simultaneously demonstrating that even when tossing water balloons or playing dodgeball, there’s a drive to win. It was also a rather dominant showing for the AFC contingent, which won three of the first four events and walked away with a 9-3 lead. They’ll carry that lead into Sunday’s finale, which features four more skills challenges and three Pro Bowl flag football games. 

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