J.J. Watt's pinkie helps save the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl had petered out, reaching walk-through levels a year ago.

Which created a threat: If players didn’t put forth more effort, the game could go away.

So Peyton Manning gave a speech at the start of the week and some defensive linemen -- J.J. Watt, Geno Atkins, Jason Pierre-Paul among them -- put forth solid effort on most snaps that was semi-contagious.

The game will get ratings and with the improved effort, it is sure to survive.

And it’s got its symbol: Watt’s left pinkie.

In the first quarter the Houston defensive lineman, who’d already lined up for a snap as a split out tight end, shredded the finger. In a sideline interview with NBC’s Michelle Tafoya he showed it, and we saw blood from it splattered on his white jersey and his face.

“They can’t say we’re not playing hard in this game,” Watt told her. “Hey, Commish, we’re playing hard!”

Later he told Nick Scurfield of the Texans web site it wasn’t bad.

“It’s doing alright, man,” Watt said after the game. “It’s doing alright. It’s all wrapped up. I’m going to go get some stitches after this and we’ll be just fine.

“(It) just got cut open. I didn’t even realize how bad it bled, but it bled pretty good. I’m alright, though. That’s football. It’s not fun if you’re not going to get bloody.”

It’s just a symbol. But the picture will be Exhibit A of players trying hard in the game. You don’t slice a finger by lollygagging, brother-in-lawing or standing around.

It's over-dramatic to say he's Mariano Rivera with the save, since the likelihood of the game disappearing was pretty small.

But he did his part to ensure it won't fizzle out.