The four Cardinals Pro Bowlers after Sunday night's 32-28 Team Carter loss: (from left) Antonio Cromartie, Justin Bethel, Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson.
There are precious few chances for defensive players to stand out in the Pro Bowl, what with blitzing not allowed and tackling a four-letter word.
So when Team Irvin quarterback Matt Ryan lofted a ball to the end zone with no wide receiver in sight at the end of Sunday's third quarter, the eyes of Cardinals cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson grew wide.
Cromartie had the shot at it as Peterson circled behind him, but the pass bounced off Cromartie's hands, then off Peterson and harmlessly to the ground. As their visions of the game MVP and a new truck vanished, Peterson could react only one way – he fired the
ball in mock disgust at his positional brethren.
"We rag on each other all the time for dropping interceptions," Peterson said. "And that's why I threw it back at him pretty hard."
"When I saw him pick it up, I already knew what was coming," Cromartie said with a smile. "That's why I put my hands up quick. … Man, I dropped three interceptions. That's not me. I should be having defensive player of the game right now. I should be getting ready to get my truck."
It didn't get any better for Cromartie, who was in coverage when Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 3:10 remaining to lift Team Irvin to a 32-28 win at a sold-out University of Phoenix Stadium.
All four Cardinals – defensive end Calais Campbell and special teamer Justin Bethel were the team's other selections – were on Team Carter, so they all ended up on the losing side. It cost them $27,000 apiece – the winners got a $55,000 payout, the losers $28,000 -- although that was of little worry immediately afterward.
"The whole thing was just a great experience," Campbell said. "I loved it all. I hope to come back again and again."
It was Campbell's first Pro Bowl appearance, and he quickly learned how tough it is for defensive players to make an impact. He finished without a tackle, with his most notable play a near-sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford when he eased up after the throw and put Stafford into a bear hug.
"I didn't want to knock him down," Campbell said. "I've beat him up before. I know that hurts."
Peterson finished with a pair of tackles, while Cromartie had a tackle and two pass break-ups. Bethel nearly blocked a field goal on Adam Vinatieri's first attempt and also played cornerback later in the contest.
Stafford finished as the offensive MVP by completing 15-of-25 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was the defensive MVP, registering a tackle, an interception, a fumble recovery and four pass deflections.
Watt even tried to sneak in on offense as he did a handful of times during the regular season, but to no avail.
"Right there near the end of the game, I strolled into the offensive huddle, and I don't know if they didn't see me or they didn't want to use me, but I strolled my way back to the sideline when I didn't get the call," Watt said.
While the players were already talking about returning to Hawaii for the 2016 Pro Bowl, the fans came out in full force, as the announced attendance of 63,225 was nearly 16,000 more than last year's figure from Honolulu.
The next three Pro Bowls will be played in Hawaii.
Many on hand rooted for the Cardinals, as Cromartie, Peterson, Bethel and Campbell were greeted by a loud ovation when they were announced. The Seahawks Pro Bowlers who were recognized during the game were booed for the duration of their interview.
"That's loyalty," Bethel said. "I love it."
The Cards take part in the 2015 Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium