It's difficult to say that anyone stands out at the Pro Bowl. Sure, there is an MVP and a handful of highlight plays, but with no pass rush, two-hand-touch tackling and no intensity whatsoever, the Pro Bowl resembles more of a pre-game walk through than a football game. The usual tools used for analysis -- stats, QB rating, etc -- mean nothing. Maurice Jones-Drew's 9.3 yard per carry average and Derrick Johnson's interception mean about as much as they would in a video game.
That being said, the game itself is an honor for those elected to participate. Playing in the Pro Bowl means that you were a top player at your position, and the fans recognized it. And a top player at his position is exactly what Andy Dalton was last season. Fresh off a playoff berth, the future is bright for the Bengals, and no one is more excited about it than Dalton. Interviewed by official Cincinnati Bengals writer Geoff Hobson after the game, Dalton said the following:
"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."
"Just the beginning" is exactly right. 2011 was expected to be rebuilding year full of loses and disappointment, but thanks to Dalton and other exceptional young talent that was not the case. After clinching a wild card spot in a rebuilding year, anything less than a playoff berth in 2012 will surely be a disappointment. Moving forward the Bengals will have to rely on Dalton, not as an up and coming rookie, but as the franchise quarterback, a role Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall has complete faith Dalton can fill.
"(Dalton's) a quarterback you can hang your hat on...He's young, but he's intelligent," Marshall said. "He's feisty and very crafty."
As stated earlier, not much can be taken from the Pro Bowl itself. But between soon to be Rookie of the Year Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, which quarterback was more accurate? Which quarterback was more intelligent with the ball? Using a term that has defined Dalton all season, which quarterback looked more poised? Which quarterback was better?
Behind Dalton and his cast of other young studs, the Cincinnati Bengals have unlimited potential and great things in their future. Its a great time to be a Bengal's fan. Andy Dalton hit the nail on the head - this really is "just the beginning".