GLENDALE, Ariz. - Saints perennial Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, whose first four full seasons were good but not quite as good as Andy Dalton's four-year career, empathized with the Bengals quarterback after Sunday night's Pro Bowl here at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"You don't have hardly any time to get timing down. So much of what you're doing is just kind of street ball," Brees said of a $1 billion seven-on-seven drill.
"You're running a bunch of plays that you don't have a lot of familiarity with and you don't have a lot of familiarity with the personnel. Usually in crunch-time situations you know the stuff you know and you want to call and you don't have access to that and you're kind of at the mercy of what is in the playbook."
After alumni coach Cris Carter replaced Brees with Dalton and 1:52 left in the third quarter with a 28-25 lead, Dalton couldn't put any points on the board in his three series and Team Irving took a 32-28 victory.
Dalton drove the Carters to a first down at the Irving 19 with 1:06 left, but four straight incompletions ended it, the last a wayward ball to Panthers tight end Greg Olsen on a corner route while Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown broke free on a go route.
"I was getting press (coverage)," Brown said. "I gave him a little heads up coming out of the huddle. I was doing a go route. I don't know what he was thinking. It's just timing… You don't spend the time working out with guys. It's kind of fun, you come out and see what you can do."
This is exactly what Brees was talking about. This is what Dalton was thinking. In the timeout before fourth down they had discussed on the sidelines getting Olsen free on a corner route after he had scored two touchdowns earlier in the game.
"We got the look trying to be able to wrap around, but (Olsen) wasn't able to get around (Clay) Matthews," Dalton said of the Packers linebacker. "It's tight down there (for a go route). We talked about it on the sidelines about Greg on that corner and it just fell a little short."
Wide receiver A.J. Green, Dalton's favorite target, also looked out of sync in a rotation with Brown and the Colts' T.Y. Hilton as he finished the night with no catches for the first time in his four Pro Bowls. Only one of Dalton's 20 pass attempts went to Green, a quick first- down pass that skipped way in front of his feet.
"He slipped out of his route and fell," Dalton said. "Just the way it was being called, he wasn't the primary guy."
Green admitted, "It's tough to get something going when you don't play a whole game."
And Green smiled when he said he was surprised Dalton didn't take a shot for one of their connections on fourth down.
"That was tough. That was tough," Green said. "Just give me a chance."
But that's not what had been discussed in the last timeout.
"I could have done that," Dalton said. "But since we talked about it on the sidelines, I thought we were going to have a big play there."
Dalton hit nine of 20 passes for just 69 yards after Brees and Andrew Luck combined to sift 22 of 31 for 274 yards and four touchdowns. They threw at Green just three times, but he wasn't that put out that he didn't play as much as Brown and Hilton.
Green didn't get on the field for the final drive until the last four plays. He plainly felt a tough season in his bones. This was the seventh time this season he didn't have a catch, but the first time not because of injury. He basically hadn't had a full practice since Dec. 20, two days before he badly bruised his bicep and a week before he suffered a concussion that took him out of the playoffs.
You can't count those three 45-minute Pro Bowl practices, which are basically a picture day with jumping jacks.
"I'm sore," Green said as he walked off the field. "I'm fine, but I feel a lot sore."
Dalton's left hand looked red and sore, but he said it was OK. He wasn't happy about the way it ended, but he also knew it didn't count.
"You want to win. That's what everyone here is trying to do," Dalton said. "Some guys are doing one thing, or might slow down on certain route. You have to have a feel for how you are running stuff. You want to win, but I'm not going to lose sleep over this."
His bashers will because they'll be all over him with the usual Dalton themes and on Sunday he gave them both worlds. A bad performance in January prime time. But Brees came to his defense.
In Brees' first four seasons he went 30-28 with 79 TDs and 53 interceptions, averaging just under seven yards per pass and was one 0-1 in the playoffs going into his fifth season, when he went 1-1. Dalton is 40-23-1 with 99 TDs and 66 picks with seven yards per attempt while going 0-4 in the postseason.
"Listen, what he's accomplished in the last four years in a really tough division is quite impressive," Brees said. "Four straight playoff appearances. I know it's not the result you wanted when you got there. Still, just getting to the tournament is a hard thing to do."
They spent some time together this week, but Brees said he didn't spend time bucking him up.
"Here's the thing. We were at the Pro Bowl," Brees said. "It's not like you need encouragement at the Pro Bowl. You're here because you're being rewarded for a good season and a certain amount of accomplishments. We were able to talk a lot of shop, about our systems and concepts and philosophies and he's a sharp guy."
Green did walk away with one grab Sunday night. He ended up with Brees' Saints helmet in the annual Pro Bowl tradition of swapping helmets.
"Going right in the man cave," Green said.