The Steelers’ considerable presence was apparent from the outset at the Pro Bowl.
Center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Alejandro Villanueva and running back James Conner started for the AFC against the NFC on Sunday afternoon in Orlando, Fla. And wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster entered the game on the first offensive series.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Cam Heyward started for the AFC and outside linebacker T.J. Watt appeared during the NFC’s first possession.
A good time appeared to be had by all despite persistent rain in what became a 26-7 victory for the AFC.
Guard David DeCastro and wide receiver Antonio Brown were selected to the AFC squad but didn’t play due to injury.
Conner had an 18-yard reception from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a 12-yard run on the AFC’s game-opening, seven-play, 75-yard drive in 3:34 for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
ABC play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore referenced Conner as “an amazing story as he became a Pro Bowler stepping in for Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the season in a contract dispute.”
Smith-Schuster had a touch but not a catch on the opening march. Mahomes, moving to his right, tried a no-look pass to Smith-Schuster, who was running from right to left across the field on first-and-10 from the NFC 18-yard line. The ball was slightly behind Smith-Schuster and glanced off his hands.
“JuJu Smith-Schuster, he’s not used to that right there,” color analyst Jason Witten observed. “‘Hey, man, you usually look at me when you’re going to throw it to me.’”
A pass by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck intended for Smith-Schuster on third-and-10 from the AFC 44 early in the second quarter was intercepted by Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Luck’s next pass on the AFC’s next possession found Smith-Schuster for a catch-and-run, 16-yard gain on first-and-10 from the AFC 8.
Smith-Schuster limped off the field after the play, which ended on a tackle by Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner.
“What a year he had in Pittsburgh,” Witten said of Smith-Schuster. “I love his spirit, how he plays, what he brings to the Pittsburgh team.”
Tessitore mentioned Smith-Schuster’s age, “22-years, one-month old,” and recognized him as “the youngest player in NFL history to have a 100-catch season (111).”
Smith-Schuster finished with one catch for 16 yards.
Heyward was credited with four tackles (two solo), one-and-a-half sacks, one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.
Conner ended up with 11 yards on six carries and caught three passes for 34 yards.
Witten applauded Conner for how he handled what Witten characterized as the “noise” Bell’s absence from the Steelers generated throughout the season.
“He’s a big reason why they had success and why they had a chance to get in the playoffs at the end of the season,” Witten said of Conner and the Steelers. “They came up short, but they found something in this young back.”
Game action photos from the 2019 Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida