LAS VEGAS — The new Pro Bowl format isn’t exactly conducive to showcasing Matthew Judon’s best skills, but the Patriots linebacker still enjoyed the festivities.
“I get to be around some of my favorite players, some people whose games I admire,” Judon said. “Just going through it, I understand what it takes to get here.”
This year, the NFL abandoned a traditional football game in favor of a series of events, culminating with Sunday’s 7-on-7 flag football contests. The defenses were not permitted to “sack” the quarterback — Judon’s speciality — and could only send one rusher per play.
Judon, though, still did his best in coverage, trying to contain the likes of tight ends George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson. While he didn’t force any turnovers himself, Judon was sure to celebrate whenever the AFC stole a takeaway.
The NFL has struggled to drum up excitement for its annual All-Star weekend, forcing the league to introduce position-specific competitions such as “Kick Tac Toe” for the specialists, “Move the Chains” for the linemen, and “Best Catch” for wide receivers. All players also could have participated in a variety of non-football events, such as dodgeball.
Outside of flag football, Judon only participated in one event: “Longest Drive,” which measured how far each player could hit a golf ball. Judon’s drive didn’t go quite as planned, as he sliced it far to the right.
“Where’d it go?” he said after his swing.
Judon, who earned a Pro Bowl nod for the fourth consecutive season, was the lone Patriot to be selected to the annual All-Star game this year. He had plenty of fun chumming it up with his other AFC comrades, especially Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, his former teammate of four years and close friend.
The 30-year-old Judon wasn’t the only member of his family in the spotlight this weekend, however. His 3-year-old son, Leo, ended up joining him on the sidelines Sunday, while his 7-year-old daughter Aniyah served as the kid reporter for NFL Network, asking several Pro Bowlers, including her father, questions on Saturday.
“I think her personality is going to shine once she gets over her shyness,” Judon said.
For Judon, the Pro Bowl marks the end of his second season with the Patriots. In those two years, he has emerged as the best signing of New England’s 2021 spending spree, registering the best stays of his career. With two years still remaining on his $54.5 million contract, Judon is expected to remain a centerpiece of the defense.
The Patriots have just two linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson, expected to hit free agency this offseason. Perhaps most importantly, the team announced its plans to retain linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who was previously scheduled to interview for multiple coaching jobs across the league.
“If we can keep Jerod forever and I could stay being coached by him, or join his staff with him, that would be the best,” Judon said.
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Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones is among the finalists for the 2023 NFL Players Association’s Alan Page Community Award, given annually to a player that “goes above and beyond to perform community service in his hometown and team city.” The other finalists include Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin, Washington’s Charles Leno Jr., Las Vegas’s Darren Waller, and Tampa Bay’s Devin White, with the winner to be announced at Wednesday’s NFLPA Super Bowl press conference.