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Fitzgerald's 2 TD catches lift Eli, NFC past AFC

HONOLULU - With a huge red lei around his neck and a widegrin that could have stretched across Oahu, Larry Fitzgerald heldup the gleaming, silver MVP trophy. It sparkled in the sunshine asmuch as his game.

The only problem: It wasn't the Lombardi Trophy.

Fitzgerald caught five passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns,44-year-old John Carney kicked two fourth-quarter field goals, andthe NFC rallied to a 30-21 victory over the AFC. The ArizonaCardinals' All-Pro receiver, coming off a record-breakingpostseason and a spectacular Super Bowl in a loss to the PittsburghSteelers, earned MVP honors.

But he said the victory over the AFC, which featured threemembers of the Steelers' defense, didn't ease the pain from theSuper Bowl.

"No, not one bit," he said.

Fitzgerald also took home keys to a new Cadillac.

"I'm just glad we won, that's the most important thing," hesaid.

On a sweltering day, with 60 percent humidity, Kurt Warnerstarted for the NFC and played just one series before making wayfor Brees. Warner was just 1-of-2 for 8 yards.

"I would've liked to have won last week and not this week, if Icould switch them out," he said.

Fitzgerald caught a 46-yard scoring pass from Drew Brees beforethe half and a 2-yard TD pass from Eli Manning for the go-aheadscore with 4:07 to play.

The NFC defense took care of the rest.

Manning, making his Pro Bowl debut, was 8-of-14 for 111 yards.While big brother Peyton had better stats, 12-of-17 for 151 yardsand a TD, Eli got the win.

"He didn't play the whole second half, so it's not aboutbeating my brother, it's just about having fun," Eli Manning said.

The Manning brothers were the first quarterback brothers in ProBowl history. And Carney, who was a perfect 3-for-3, became theoldest player in the game's history. He booted a 48-yarder with2:06 remaining to make it 27-21 and sealed the win with a 26-yarderwith 32 seconds to go.

Sunday's all-star game ended a successful 30-year run at AlohaStadium, with a sellout every year. The Pro Bowl will be played inMiami next year, a week before the Super Bowl. The NFL, which hasbeen looking to increase the profile of the game, hopes to bringthe game back to Hawaii.

The players, who spent most of the week by the beach and sippingumbrella-adorned mai tais, were pretty unanimous in wanting thegame to return.

For Warner, the question now is whether this was his final gamein the NFL or, as a free agent, will he opt to continue playing atage 38?

"I don't know right now," Warner said. "Again, when I have afeeling one way or the other, I'll let everyone else know. I don'thave a time frame. This is the first time right now that I am donehaving to think about football for a while, and I'm going to enjoythat part of it, enjoy my wife, enjoy my kids and then we'll make adecision as soon as we can."

The AFC was looking to hula dance into halftime with acomfortable 14-3 cushion after Kerry Collins connected with OwenDaniels on a 9-yard scoring pass with 28 seconds left in the half.

However, that was more than enough the time for the NFC, withall its weapons.

The NFC took over at its 45 with 19 seconds left after a nicekickoff return by Clifton Smith. They ran two plays before LarryFitzgerald hauled in Brees' 46-yard bomb with fellow All-ProCortland Finnegan on his back as time expired to pull the NFC to14-10.

It made for two huge end-of-the-half plays in consecutive weeksfor Fitzgerald. But this time, rather than trying -- and failing --to chase down James Harrison on his 100-yard interception returnedfor a TD, Fitzgerald was the one celebrating.

Fitzgerald also beat Finnegan on his second score.

"These guys are such elite players, it doesn't take much timeto get in the groove with these players," Fitzgerald said. "Theseguys were great."

The usual high-scoring affair surprisingly also featured plentyof defense. Despite rules such as no blitzing linebackers andsafeties, the quarterbacks were feeling the heat, at times buriedby the defensive line. None of the passes had any room for error onthrows against the speedy defensive backs.

The AFC had a chance to take the lead late, but Julius Peppersgot in the way. Down by six, the AFC started its drive on its 20with 4:03 remaining and got to midfield. Peppers then swatted apass by Jay Cutler with his left hand and came up with theinterception that led to Carney's 48-yard field goal.

There were three straight drives ending with a turnover in aspan of about 2 minutes in the third quarter alone, including twoby Collins.

The second led to the NFC's first lead of the game, 17-14, latein the third quarter. Jared Allen stripped Collins from behind andscooped up the bouncing ball at the AFC 10. All-Pro AdrianPeterson, last year's Pro Bowl MVP, finished it off with a 10-yardrun.

Pinned on its 4, the AFC came out firing behind the league MVP.Peyton Manning completed passes of 20, 18, 22, 4, and 6 yards tofive players before hitting Tony Gonzalez for the score on ahigh-arcing, 19-yard pass.

Gonzalez, who earlier this week indicated he may want out ofKansas City to play for a contender, easily outmaneuvered Seattlelinebacker Julian Peterson before hauling in the pass and tiptoeinginto the end zone. Gonzalez, also an All-Pro, finished with sixcatches for 98 yards.

On the ensuing series, Robert Mathis stripped Brees and gavepossession back to the AFC.

Manning then completed a 22-yarder to Colts teammate ReggieWayne before the NFC finally started playing some defense.

After the AFC reached the NFC's 31, Peppers squashed Manning --and gave him a hand to get back up. It is, after all, the Pro Bowl.

New York Sports