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Ryans flashes talent in Pro Bowl


DeMeco Ryans started strong in the 2008 Pro Bowl with two passes defensed and a forced fumble in the first quarter Sunday at Aloha Stadium.

HONOLULU– Pro Bowls are designed to be offensive showcases full of big plays and high scoring, especially considering that teams are allowed to run only the 4-3 defense with no blitzes and press coverage limited to inside the five-yard line.

DeMeco Ryans apparently didn't get the memo.

The Texans' first-time Pro Bowler and starting middle linebacker for the AFC had two passes defensed and a forced fumble in only the first quarter of Sunday's game. He added two more tackles and another pass defensed later in the contest.

While the offense picked up as the game progressed, Ryans' efforts kept the AFC in the game until the NFC pulled away in the fourth quarter to win 42-30 in front of 50,044 fans at Aloha Stadium.

"It felt great," Ryans said of the game. "It's a beautiful day out here. It was a great experience playing with all of these great athletes. It was a good game."

On the NFC's first play from scrimmage, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo executed a play-action fake that didn't fool Ryans, who dropped into coverage and tipped a ball intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

{QUOTE}Later in the series, Ryans knocked down a pass intended for Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens in the red zone.

Asked about the two early pass breakups, Ryans lamented his missed opportunities.

"I should've had two interceptions," he said. "I'm a little upset about that. I should've picked those passes off. I was kicking myself about that one. But it was good to actually put my hands on the ball, but I fell down. I wish I would've pulled them in, though."

After the AFC's second touchdown of the game, Ryans ran down on kickoff coverage and poked the ball loose from Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware at the NFC's 33-yard line. Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed recovered the fumble for the first takeaway of the game.

Playing on kickoff coverage, kickoff return and other units of the kicking game was new for Ryans, but the second-year player and first-year Pro Bowler knew he'd have to contribute in all phases of the game. After all, veteran Pro Bowler Ray Lewis, a longtime member of the Ravens, told him so.

Afterward, Ryans joked that he hopes Texans special teams coordinator Joe Marciano wasn't watching him during the game.

"Ooh, let's talk about that," Ryans said of his special teams performance. "That was a lot different, I'll tell you that. It was tough running down on kickoff and kickoff return and also starting at middle linebacker. It was tough, but not too bad. Joe, don't get any good ideas."

The offensive fireworks picked up in the second quarter, when the teams combined for 24 total points. Owens and Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley caught touchdown passes for the NFC, which rebounded from a 24-7 deficit to get within six points at halftime.

With his defensive mindset, Ryans was slightly irritated that the Pro Bowl rules favored the offense, but he understands what most fans want to see.

"As a defense, we were handcuffed a little bit," Ryans said. "Everyone wanted to come out and showcase the offensive guys and throw passes, which put us in tough situations where we can't defend them. But I wish we could've gotten after them a little bit more."

While his knee hobbled him throughout the later parts of the 2007 season, Ryans said after the game that his knee held up fine in Hawaii. He probably was inspired Sunday by a fan section that included some teammates and members of his family that held up a big "DeMeco" sign.

Ryans' mother, Martha, was in the stands proudly wearing her son's Pro Bowl jersey.

"That was my sister and my daughter that decided to do that," Martha said of the sign.

"I am overexcited about DeMeco. I am so proud of him. I didn't expect him to make it this far, but he did. And I'm very, very proud of him."

Although the game didn't end the way that DeMeco wanted, the result didn't damper his spirits. He walked off the field with an ear-to-ear grin that likely won't wear off all offseason.

"The fanfare is crazy out here," he said. "It's unbelievable, it's great.

"I'd like to say thank you (to the fans) for voting for me and hopefully we'll be back here next year along with a few more of my teammates."

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