Dalton closes the door for AFC


Geno Atkins finished with two tackles and several QB pressures.

Updated: 1-30-12, 12:30 a.m.

HONOLULU — Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis stalked off the Aloha Stadium field after his 13th Pro Bowl selection as he was asked about Andy Dalton after the Bengals rookie quarterback guided the AFC team to a 58-41 victory with two second-half touchdown passes.

"Love him. He's a fighter," Lewis said and Dalton was still fighting even though he had pocketed the $50,000 winner's share.

After Texans head coach Gary Kubiak let him just throw it just nine times in the entire second half when Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and San Diego's Philip Rivers combined for 30 passes in the first half, Dalton smiled.

"He didn't let me do too much," Dalton said. "He brought me in so I could run the ball. I told him, 'I'm glad you're opening it up for me and giving me a lot to do.' We got the win. It doesn't matter. We did what we wanted to do to win. We got the 50 grand. I'll take it."

That was the bottom line in a game that started out as a sleepy spring seven-on-seven drill and ended with a chippy second half fueled by the NFC's two onside kicks and a fake punt.

"In the second half we turned it up; we got after it," said Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. "We didn't like what the NFC was doing with onside kicks and fake punts. It was a slap in the face. But as you saw, it didn't matter because they lost."

The NFC lost because Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall wouldn't let his team lose with a Pro Bowl record four touchdown catches, the last two from Dalton and one of them a spectacular blooper off a ball tipped from his knee while prone in the end zone to cap his MVP day.

"Some guys are playing 100 (percent), some guys are playing 90, some guys aren't playing at all," said Marshall, who had six catches for 176 yards. "It means a lot to me to be up in the rafters with some of these guys."

It meant a lot to Dalton, too, who ended his rookie dream season leading the AFC to a win.

"Andy is a great quarterback. He's young, but it seems like he's a 10-year vet," said Marshall, the former Bronco. "The Texans coaches are out of the (Mike) Shanahan system, so these guys are familiar with me. They told me they were going to get me the MVP and they did. The coaches and the quarterbacks. It was them."

The second half turned into a showdown between the first two rookies to face each other in the AFC-NFC all-star game and Dalton got a helping hand from Marshall to put the AFC ahead of the NFC and Carolina's Cam Newton for good late in the third quarter, 38-35, on that acrobatic 47-yard touchdown play with 3:53 left in the third quarter.

Dalton then salted the game away with his second touchdown pass, a floating three-yard fade to Marshall for that record fourth touchdown catch to make it 52-35 with 8:25 left in the game.

"I saw the matchup and liked it," Dalton said.

Marshall: "He gave me a chance. When you've got a 6-5 receiver, just throw it up there. He's a smart quarterback. He's aware of that and he gave me a chance on the ball."

In between, Dalton executed a Pro Bowl oddity when he needed to throw just one pass on an eight-play scoring drive. But it was a second-down completion to teammate Jermaine Gresham for the second-year tight end's first and only Pro Bowl catch, a 14-yarder good for a first down at the NFC 29.

The rest of the yards came from Chargers running back Ryan Matthews, Broncos running back Willis McGahee, and Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, and Leach finished it off on a one-yard plunge that made it 45-35 with 11:40 left in the game.

On the only snap of the previous series, Dalton rolled to his right after a play-action fake and hung it up down the right sideline as if Marshall were his own A.J. Green. He barely underthrew it and only because Marshall fell, allowing Seattle safety Earl Thomas to tip it. But he tipped it off Marshall's knee and as Marshall lay in the end zone he caught the rebound for his third touchdown catch.

Checking into a 28-28 game, Newton gave the NFC the lead with a 55-yard touchdown pass to teammate Steve Smith, but he also threw two interceptions and then oversaw drives that ended in three straight punts to the boos of the crowd. Meanwhile, Dalton managed the circumstanes crisply on 7-of-9 passing for 99 yards and a bullseye 152.1 passer rating.

Cincinnati's A.J. Green, the first rookie receiver elected to the Pro Bowl in eight years, wasted no time in becoming the first Bengals rookie to score a touchdown in the game when he strafed fellow rookie Patrick Peterson for a 34-yard touchdown bomb down the right sideline from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

It turned out to be one of Green's favorite routes.

"Slant snd go," he said. "Perfect throw." 

Other than Atkins tipping a pass by NFC quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it was the only time a Bengal touched the ball in a typically wild Pro Bowl first half that generated 56 points, more than 700 yards, and a 28-28 tie.

Rivers relieved Roethlisberger early in the second quarter, setting the stage for Dalton in the third quarter.

"I thought I'd split the second half with Phil," said Dalton, who finished.

Gresham had one ball thrown his way, but Rivers overthrew him on the sideline in the two-minute drill at the end of the half in a drive that ended on Chargers tight end Antonio Gates's 27-yard touchdown catch on the last snap of the half to pull the AFC into a 28-28 tie.

Earlier in the half Rivers tried to jam it into Green (two catches for 42 yards) on a red-zone throw in the back of the end zone, but Peterson won that one when he jumped in front of Green for an interception.

With players allowed to tweet during games, Green fired out a "first pro bowl TD!!! Blessed."

And other Bengals chimed in with cornerback Nate Clements observing, "I know y'all saw A.J. Green with the TD catch…way to represent."

The play came late in the first quarter and cut the NFC's lead to 14-7 with 6:54 left in the first quarter before Roethlisberger's 74-yard bomb to Marshall tied it at 14 with 1:41 left.

It was the first Bengals touchdown in a Pro Bowl since wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught one each from Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning in the 2008 game.

Atkins started at left defensive tackle and tipped a Rodgers pass that the Green Bay quarterback caught before Atkins appeared to get in on a sack. But it wasn't a sack because Rodgers caught it. Atkins was still busy with one of his two tackles for a loss and he just missed two sacks of Newton. 

Dalton tried to get a TD for Green early in the third quarter on a back-shoulder throw at the five-yard line, but he fumbled the ball away when he couldn't shake the tackle and tried to stretch from too far out.

"You don't get an opportunity to score too often, so you've got to go for it," Green said.

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