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AFC 31, NFC 28

AFC's strong finishing kick gives NFC the boot

CARSON PALMER MVP showed poise CARSON PALMER MVP showed poise

HONOLULU -- Even while the star-studded AFC cruised to a comfortable lead in the Pro Bowl, Carson Palmer could sense a wacky finish lurking just beyond everybody's control.

"With this much talent, anybody could change the game at any time," the Cincinnati quarterback said. "You've got to expect something crazy to happen, because it will."

Palmer's hunch proved correct in the improbable final minutes -- but thanks to Palmer's poise and a costly NFC penalty, the AFC's Hawaiian vacation ended with another win.

Nate Kaeding kicked a 21-yard field goal as time expired to cap another strong drive led by Palmer, the MVP of the AFC's 31-28 victory yesterday in the 57th edition of the NFL's all-star game.

Earlier, Drew Brees lived every player's Pro Bowl nightmare, dislocating his left elbow throwing a fourth-down incompletion on his second series as the NFC's starting quarterback. It was a scary moment for Sean Payton, his coach with both the Saints and the NFC squad, but one that's unlikely to affect next season.

"You never want to see anybody get hurt in a game like this, where it's just an exhibition," said Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, a veteran of eight Pro Bowls.

The NFC trailed, 28-14, with three minutes to play before injecting a little drama into this normally mellow exhibition. Steven Jackson scored on a fourth-down run, and Ronde Barber recovered an onside kick to set up Anquan Boldin's 47-yard touchdown catch from Tony Romo with 1:48 left -- followed by a tying 2-point conversion catch by Carolina's Steve Smith.

Suddenly, the AFC's $40,000 bonuses for winning the game were in doubt. But just as quickly as the NFC's playmakers got back in the game, the AFC got it together again.

"I had a feeling they were going to have one more shot," Jackson said. "These games are all about who lands the last punch, and Carson is a great player."

Palmer, who passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns, calmly got the AFC across midfield -- and then Arizona's Adrian Wilson, mistakenly believing Palmer's long pass had been tipped, leveled Chad Johnson at the goal line before the throw reached them.

The 39-yard pass-interference penalty put the ball near the goal line. San Diego's Kaeding made his field goal, setting off fireworks at sold-out Aloha Stadium for the AFC's eighth win in 11 games.

Palmer threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Johnson and a 72-yarder to Reggie Wayne, and Baltimore's Ed Reed intercepted two passes before the frantic finish. Palmer, who took over for Peyton Manning after just two series, went 8 for 17 in his first Pro Bowl appearance.

Manning capped his week of tropical relaxation with 67 yards passing in just two series as the AFC's starting quarterback.

League MVP LaDainian Tomlinson also ran for a score as the AFC underlined its regular-season superiority -- but until things got tight, neither side cared much about the result in the league's annual postseason showcase.

Instead, they welcomed new stars such as Vince Young and said goodbye to older pros . Tiki Barber, the New York Giants running back who's retiring after a 10-year career, scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.

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