The Bengals G-Men, wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins via the University of Georgia, were not only named to the Pro Bowl for the second time Wednesday night, but are also headed to Hawaii for the first time as starters.
Green made it last year as the third receiver and Atkins as a a first alternate, but their dominant play this season carried them into the starting lineup in voting by players, coaches and fans, with each block having equal weight.
And with Steelers tight end Heath Miller suffering an ACL injury in Pittsburgh last Sunday against the Bengals, tight end Jermaine Gresham, a first alternate, is also headed to Hawaii for the second straight time.
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has a shot at making his first Pro Bowl in his seventh season as a first alternate. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who teamed with Green to form the first rookie quarterback-receiver Pro Bowl tandem in history last season, was a third alternate along with cornerback Leon Hall.
Alternates are selected for the Pro Bowl when roster replacements are needed due to injuries or other reasons. This year's Pro Bowl will again be played a week in advance of the Super Bowl, so Pro Bowl selections on the two Super Bowl teams are replaced from the alternates ranks. Last year, Atkins ended up starting the game when New England's Vince Wilfork went to the Super Bowl.
Atkins and Wilfork are this year's starters and Baltimore's Haloti Ngata is No. 3. Dalton may have tough sledding to get back to Hawaii. There are two QBs ahead of him, as well as Pro Bowlers Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Schaub.
The Pro Bowl is set for Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. on NBC.
"I told a lot of people there was going to be a boycott if he didn't make it this year because he's playing out of his mind," Green said of Atkins. "It's great to have a fellow teammate and another Georgia Bulldog out there, somebody I can hang out with. It's good to have him there."
Atkins has steamrolled his way to 12.5 sacks, outdistancing the closest tackle in the NFL, Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, by 5.5 sacks. He needs one more in Sunday's 1 p.m. season finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens to have the second-greatest sack season in Bengals history and surpassing left end Eddie Edwards's 13 in 1983.
"I think I'm finally getting respect around the league that I show out there on the field," Atkins said.
He says the turning point has been when people turn on film and "see the tenacity and relentlessness that the D-line has."
Asked to describe himself as a player, Atkins said, "Someone who plays within the scheme and doesn't do anything out of the ordinary."
But everything he does is out of the ordinary. Just ask Whitworth.
"He's a heck of a player and he's one of those guys, even a guy like Geno, he's got (12.5) sacks, that doesn't even tell the story," Whitworth said. "The real story is people turning on the film and see play in and play out how he disrupts plays. Sometimes people just look at sacks and say he's disruptive. The truth is far he's more disruptive than just 12 sacks. As good as it is that doesn't even tell the story."
Green is much the same way. But while Atkins is a fourth-round pick from 2010 that has taken the league by storm, Green is the fourth pick in the 2011 draft that has been as advertised as one of the tall, graceful and shockingly athletic wide receivers that have come to define the early 21st century NFL.
After being named the first rookie receiver in eight years to the Pro Bowl, Green has pulled off an encore by having a touchdown catch in nine straight games, is tied for the AFC lead with 11 and is five catches shy of becoming the third Bengal to have 100 catches.
"I'm excited I go out there every week and he's on my team. It's one of those things you're glad he's with you. He's a heck of player. You would expect that he'd be there," Whitworth said.
Atkins has tied the Bengals record for most Pro Bowl selections by a defensive lineman. The last Bengals defensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl before Atkins was nose tackle Tim Krumrie, who went in 1987-88. Other Bengals defensive linemen with two Pro Bowl selections are end Coy Bacon and tackle Mike Reid.
Green joins Chad Johnson (six), Isaac Curtis (four), Cris Collinsworth (three) and Carl Pickens (two) as Bengals receivers with multiple Pro Bowl berths.
"It's an honor. Second year in a row. First two years, it's definitely an honor," Green said. "I'm blessed. But I have to keep working, though. Hopefully we'll be playing in a Super Bowl before I go. That'd be nice."
Green has gone from seven TDs, 65 catches and 1,057 yards as a rookie to those 11 TDs, 95 catches (fourth in the AFC) and 1,325 yards (second in the AFC). The TD streak is the second longest in 48 years during a single season and second only to the NFL's all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice and his skein of 12 in 1987.
"Two years, two Pro Bowls. That's got a good buzz to it. But I've got a long way to go to be where I want to be. I want to be great," Green said. "Like I told everybody when I came into this game, I don't want to be one ordinary receiver. I want to be mentioned with some of the best that ever played. That's what my goal is: one of the best that ever played, not the best. ONE of the best."
Asked if he could make a run at Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson's new single-season mark he took from Rice, Green, an offseason workout partner of Johnson, smiled.
"That's a lot of yardage. I don't know. Maybe one year. Who knows?" he asked.
"I just wanted to be a better player in general. If my stats didn't show but if I felt like I improved on some stuff, I'd be fine with it," Green said of his goals this year. "Like I said from Day 1, helping this team win is my sole concern. I'm not really concentrating on any kind of goal or yardage I need to get to."
"I think the biggest thing is the concept of the offense, being able to move around in multiple spots where Jay (Gruden) can feel comfortable putting me anywhere on the field. That's definitely the biggest spot. That's what separates the greats, being able to move around so they can't key on you from one spot on the field."
Green has also shown an ability to grind for pressure catches despite active coverage schemes against him. He has scored just one touchdown in the last five games and his longest catch in the last four games is 21 yards. But that 21-yarder came last Sunday in Pittsburgh with eight seconds left and led to Josh Brown's field goal that put the Bengals in the playoffs.
"It will be like that sometimes. At Pittsburgh I didn't have any deep balls. It was all short routes and trying to make it happen after the catch," Green said. "Some games will be like that. You've got to grind it out. The big shots will happen."
Somehow, he still managed to find 116 yards on 10 catches, only Cincinnati's fourth 100-yard receiving game against Pittsburgh in Marvin Lewis's 10 seasons.
"It didn't even feel like 116. My body was sore. That was probably the worst my body's felt," Green said. "That game was very physical and a long grind. But it felt good to come out with a win."
Like Green, Atkins has enjoyed two postseason berths in his brief career and he's been a big part of them. Some would say he should be in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Aldon Smith are tremendous players and I have to give them all the credit," Atkins said. "They deserve the national attention."
Atkins says it's too hard decide which one he'd cast his ballot, but he agrees they have an easier path to sacks.
"You usually get the grunt work and not 19 or 20 sacks," Atkins said of the life of a tackle. "They're playing more of a glamour position."
But Atkins likes it just fine in the gaps. It's where he finds plenty of motivation.
"I want to get better and show the world that even though I am 6-1, 300 pounds I can still be the best," he said.
The Bengals G-Men seem to have already made their case.