Updated: 9:55 p.m. At times Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth wishes he played a position that had statistics, but he says the ones kept for A.J. Green can't even quantify what he's meant to a team one game away from the playoffs.
"I don't think they begin to tell you what kind of an impact he's made on games and how he changes the field," Whitworth said Tuesday night. "We've said it from the first day and it's as true now as it was then. The guy's the real deal."
Green's peers and other coaches in the NFL outside the locker room confirmed it Tuesday when Green became the first Bengals rookie to make the Pro Bowl since fellow wide receiver Cris Collinsworth made it in 1981, seven years before Green was born.
The selection comes just three days after Green broke Collinsworth's club record for receiving yards with 1,031. Five more catches Sunday breaks the other Collinsworth rookie record with 68.
"I'm thrilled; it's a team honor," Green said. "I was surprised when Coach (Marvin) Lewis called to tell me. But it says a lot about my teammates and my coaches and the positions they put me in to make plays."
But Sunday's 4:15 p.m. game against the 11-4 Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium that decides the playoff fate of the 9-6 Bengals isn't very far away.
"I'll have time to reflect later. Right now I'm focused on helping us win Sunday and make the playoffs," Green said.
Green, the only Bengal to make it, was surprised that his partner in the NFL's most productive rookie-receiver combo of the past decade wasn't named. But Andy Dalton, selected as the AFC's first alternate quarterback, may very well be headed for a Hawaiian reunion with Green, joining Collinsworth, wide receiver Isaac Curtis (1973) and cornerback Lemar Parrish (1970) as the only Bengals rookie Pro Bowlers.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, voted to the team with New England's Tom Brady and San Diego's Philip Rivers, takes his team into the playoffs with a bevy of ailments ranging from a broken thumb to a gimpy foot. He may not make the Jan. 29 game on NBC at 7 p.m.
The alternates are selected for the Pro Bowl when roster replacements are needed due to injuries or other reasons. Joining Green on the AFC roster at receiver are New England's Wes Welker, Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace and Miami's Brandon Marshall.
"I'm definitely surprised. Andy is a big part of why I'm going," Green said. "He'll make it next year. He's going to be around for a long time. He's had a great rookie year."
Lewis's belief that the Bengals have the foundation to springboard into a run of playoff seasons with a win Sunday is reflected in the vote.
Of the one Pro Bowler and seven alternates that were selected from the Bengals, four of them are 24 years old or younger. Whitworth, who turned 30 two weeks ago, is the oldest of the group and just signed a contract extension this year.
"Once people see us on Sunday night and Monday night, more people are going to find out how good these guys are," Whitworth said. "That's what we're selling. A good young nucleus. I'm happy for all of these guys. They deserve it."
Whitworth is also surprised that Dalton didn't make it instead of Rivers's 19 interceptions. Besides Dalton, 24, the first rookie in history to throw 20 touchdowns while quarterbacking nine victories, other first alternates were Geno Atkins, who has tied the franchise record for sacks by defensive tackles, and kicker Mike Nugent, who led the NFL in field-goal percentage at the time of the vote last week.
Whitworth is the second alternate at tackle. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, 23 years old and in his second season, is a third alternate, and running back Cedric Benson and nose tackle Domata Peko are fifth alternates.
Atkins, 23, in his second season could also have a gripe. His eight sacks give him a half-sack lead over Oakland's Tommie Kelly and the rest of the NFL defensive tackles. But Atkins fell victim to the incumbency disease. The three tackles that were selected—Haloti Ngata of Baltimore (3), Vince Wilfork of New England (3) and Kelly's teammate, Richard Seymour (7)—combine for 13 Pro Bowl berths.
Nugent, 29, a seven-year veteran, also had a case against Oakland's first-time selection Sebastian Janikowski by hitting better than 90 percent of his field goals and being among the NFL leaders in touchbacks. Peko, who just turned 27 in his sixth season, has been among the NFL leaders in tackles at his position most of the season according to NFL.com stats.
Benson, who turns 29 Wednesday, is in his third straight 1,000-yard season.
As for Whitworth, he's protecting the blind side of what may very well be a playoff Pro Bowl quarterback on an offensive line that is ranked seventh in allowing sacks per pass. He understands the selection of Cleveland's Joe Thomas as a starter, but he's perplexed by the D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Jake Long selections, as well as Ryan Clady as the first alternate.
"Most of the (Web) sites and other stuff I've seen have Joe and I as the most efficient tackles in the league," Whitworth said. "I think what happens is all those other guys are top five (draft) picks. That's hard to fight. But I know what kind of year I've had so it doesn't matter.
"The game on Sunday means the world to me. When I came here I wanted to help turn this program into a consistent winner and I think we have the young nucleus to do it. That's why I'm really not thinking about it. It's the game that matters."
Pro Bowl spots are determined on voting by players, coaches and fans, with each group's vote having equal weight. Green was third in fan voting with Atkins fourth and Dalton fifth.
It turned out to be the third straight Pro Bowl for Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban. While coaching the Eagles quarterbacks in the previous two seasons, Urban sent Donovan McNabb in 2009 and Michael Vick last season.
"It's the players; to me it's a team award," Urban said. "It starts with the whole offense, the other wide receivers. This is an Andy Dalton award as much as an A.J. Green award. There couldn't be one without the other."
What Green is doing doesn't happen every day for rookie receivers. He's the first rookie receiver in the league to go Pro Bowling since Arizona's Anquan Boldin 2003 and two weeks ago in St. Louis he became the first rookie with 1,000 receiving yards since the Saints' Marques Colston in 2006.
"When you get accomplished receivers in college, typically they are just better than their opponents and it usually takes time to catch up to the NFL defensive backs and defensive coordinators," Urban said. "But with A.J. we knew all along he was a high school superstar who immediately became a superstar in the SEC. We were hoping the transition would continue. So far, so good."
Maybe the best part of Tuesday for Urban was that he and Green didn't stay on the subject very long.
"He wanted to know about the game plan and how Baltimore was looking," Urban said. "He's like that guy we just played in here: Larry Fitzgerald. It's all about winning."
At some point, it will be about Hawaii if the Bengals aren't playing in the Super Bowl.
"My mom, my dad, my girlfriend and a couple of friends," Green said of the trip manifest. "It's a blessing."
Even his tweets ("Hawaii?") sounded amazed.
But it's in the stats.
Green has played in 14 of Cincinnati's 15 games, missing the Ravens the first time with a hyperextended knee, and he leads the team in receptions (63), receiving yards (1,031) and touchdowns (seven). He also leads the NFL this season in catches of 35 or more yards (11).
Besides Collinsworth, Curtis and Parrish, four Bengals rookies were in the American Football League All-Star Game: linebacker Bill Bergey in 1969 and center Bob Johnson, running back Paul Robinson and tight end Bob Trumpy in 1968.
"As I've said before, A.J. is the best first-round draft pick that I've ever been around," Lewis said in a press release. "He has shown the other players in this league, and the fans, that he deserved this honor. I have not seen a receiver better than he is at getting to the ball."