CINCINNATI — A.J. Green didn’t think he’d make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. His incredible catches were too much to ignore.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round draft pick is one of three rookies to be voted to the Pro Bowl, along with Denver linebacker Von Miller and Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, who made it as a kick returner.
No rookie receiver had been voted to the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003, showing how tough it is for a newcomer at that position. No Bengals receiver had been voted in since Cris Collinsworth helped the Bengals reach their first Super Bowl in 1981.
“I never thought I would make it this quick,” Green said Wednesday.
Nobody thought he and rookie quarterback Andy Dalton would do what they’ve done in their first NFL season together. Dalton was voted a first alternate to the Pro Bowl, making it likely that he’ll play. The Bengals (9-6) were expected to struggle this season with rookies at the two key spots, but they’ve surpassed expectations. They can make it even more remarkable with a victory on Sunday over Baltimore (11-4), which would clinch the final AFC wild card and put them in the playoffs for only the third time in the last 21 years. The Ravens would win the AFC North with a victory.
Green missed only one game this season, a 31-24 loss in Baltimore on Nov. 20. Cincinnati fell behind 31-14 early in the fourth quarter, then rallied behind Dalton, who set a Bengals rookie passing record with 373 yards. He also threw three interceptions.
This time, the Ravens will have to contend with Green, who has a sprained right shoulder that is improving. Green played with the injury during a 23-16 win over Arizona on Saturday and had two catches for 25 yards.
Green leads NFL rookies with 63 catches and 1,031 yards. His 11 catches of 35 yards or more are the most in the league and the most by an NFL rookie since Minnesota’s Randy Moss had 14 in 1998.
The Bengals’ most dangerous play has been Dalton throwing a high, arching pass that lets Green out-jump a cornerback for the ball.
“We call him the leading rebounder in the National Football League right now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He goes up and gets a lot of balls. They’re going to throw it up to him. He’s a vertical threat. He can go chase a ball down.”
Dalton has thrown 20 touchdown passes, a club record for a rookie. The only other NFL rookies to throw 20 were Peyton Manning (26), Charley Conerly (22), Dan Marino (20) and Cam Newton (20). Dalton and Carolina’s Newton have become the fourth and fifth rookies to throw for 3,000 yards in a season.
Since that three-interception game in Baltimore, Dalton has gotten much better at avoiding bad throws. In the last five games, he’s thrown for five touchdowns and only one interception. He had another interception nullified by a roughing-the-passer penalty.
“Turnovers usually decide the game, and I turned the ball over too many times,” Dalton said. “I have to look back at how I’ve been playing and correct those things. It’s just being smarter with the football.
“There were a couple that I threw that I shouldn’t have, whereas now I know not to make those throws.”