'It's just the beginning'

Andy Dalton

HONOLULU — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton figures to be named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year this Saturday night on NBC's award show the day before the Super Bowl, but Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton beat him head-to-head in the second half during Sunday's Pro Bowl.

Each threw for two touchdowns, but Newton got picked off three times while Dalton had none and missed on just two of his nine passes to lead the AFC to a 59-41 victory at Aloha Stadium.

It was a fitting cap to Dalton's improbable season in which he found a way to become the first rookie quarterback to lead a team into the playoffs while starting all 16 games and throwing 20 touchdowns passes.

Newton may have beaten Dalton with his spectacular stats in becoming the first rookie to throw for more than 4,000 yards and breaking the NFL record for must rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, but Dalton's effort on Sunday summed up his abilities to finish off wins at the ripe old age of 24.

While Newton completed just nine of his 27 passes, Dalton threw only nine times and hit seven.

"I've been able to do a lot given some great opportunities, but I feel like it's just the beginning, though," Dalton said. "We've got a lot of young talent. We just have to get it all together."

The class of '88 that joined Dalton out here flashed why the Bengals are excited about their young core. Rookie receiver A.J. Green became the first Bengals rookie to score a touchdown in the Pro Bowl with a 34-yard touchdown catch from Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins had two tackles, knocked down an Aaron Rodgers pass, and nearly sacked Newton twice. Tight end Jermaine Gresham caught just one ball, but it went for 14 yards and a first down in the only pass Dalton threw in an eight-play scoring drive.

"We're going to keep in touch," said San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers after he shook hands with Dalton at his locker. "He's a sharp young guy. He's going to be a good one."

Boxes littered the AFC locker room as equipment was rushed back to their respective facilities. "Andy Dalton 14 Bengals" one said, but he was also throwing in another example of why Pro Bowl MVP Brandon Marshall called him "a quarterback you can hang your hat on."

The only scratch the Bengals appeared to suffer was Dalton's slightly bloodied bridge of his nose, another metaphor for a hard-nosed approach that netted four fourth-quarter comebacks and a second-half comeback win in the Pro Bowl.

"He's young, but he's intelligent," Marshall said. "He's feisty and very crafty."

Marshall praised Dalton for the way he got him the ball for his last two touchdown catches to give him a Pro Bowl record four.

When Dalton hung up a 47-yard pass on a rollout, it turned into Marshall's stunning touchdown catch prone on his back after Seattle safety Earl Thomas batted it off Marshall's knee.

"It's the most unathletic highlight I've ever had," Marshall said. "Andy put it up there for me. I saw the ball, got nervous, fell down, saw the ball, and kicked it up and it just fell in my hands."

Indeed, they might have had something even if Marshall hadn't had fallen. Dalton saw Thomas range into the play and launched it with the hope Marshall would stop and come back to it, but he fell down.

Then on the three-yard touchdown fade, Dalton put it only where the 6-5 Marshall could haul it in just inside the right corner of the end zone. There were people telling Dalton to get it to Marshall, but he went that way because of the one-on-one basketball matchup.

"I saw the matchup I had," Dalton said. "He's a big receiver, so I put it out there where he could make a play. You're here for a reason. These guys do a great job though the year."

But Dalton's best throw of the day may have come on a play before when he ran out of the pocket and made a running 17-yard completion to Marshall over the middle. Of course, he benefited greatly from the unwritten rule of no pass rush.

"They said that's the way it was last year," Dalton said. "No one is going to try and get hurt."

GREEN FIELDS: Dalton may have helped Marshall get MVP, but Marshall was raving about Green after his two catches for 42 yards that included a touchdown and a goal-line fumble.

People were comparing the 6-4 Green to Marshall, but Marshall wouldn't have it.

"He's in a league of his own," Marshall said. "He's totally different. He's really smooth. Sometimes it takes people a couple of years to get it. But it looks like he has it. I'm looking forward to following his career."

Marshall revealed he watched tape of Green's work this season.

"I love his focus. I love his demeanor in a game," he said. "He doesn't get rattled. It doesn't matter who he's playing. He just makes plays."

As he packed up, Marshall saw over in the next locker that Green hadn't taken his Pro Bowl nameplate.

"Don't forget this, A.J.," he said.

Green didn't. Or the best part of the week.

"Being around the vets," Green said. "Watching guys like Larry (Fitzgerald) and how they approach it."

Earlier in the week, Green said he had been getting a kick out of the biggest veteran, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

"He's the funniest guy here," Green said. "Everything he says. He's always joking."

GENO BOFFO: Atkins had a goal coming in. He wanted to sack all three NFC quarterbacks. He didn't get them, but he still had a busy day. He would have had a half-sack of Rodgers, but it didn't count because it came off Atkins's tip that Rodgers caught.

"I got Rodgers, almost got Cam twice, and I didn't get much of a chance against (Drew) Braes," Atkins said.

Newton showed what he's got when he slithered away from Atkins.

"He's very fast, very elusive. He's like Big Ben. He's hard to bring down," Atkins said. "So you have to make sure you wrap up on him. I thought I had him the first time. He slipped out of my hands."

Atkins, one of the league's great effort players, admitted he had problems with the no pass-rush rule. But thanks to the NFC's chicanery (two onside kicks and a fake punt), it got the AFC revved up in the second half.

"Yeah, it was (strange), especially on that first series when we were all just stagnant," Atkins said. "Then we got it going."

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