|Wes Welker has reason to be cheery: He leads the NFL in catches and is a Pro Bowler. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Brady selected for Pro Bowl
Wilfork, Welker, Mankins also in
Quarterback Tom Brady headlined four Patriots named to the AFC Pro Bowl team last night, providing another measure of validation for Brady in his return season from the knee injury that sidelined him for all but half of a quarter in 2008.
Guard Logan Mankins, wide receiver Wes Welker, and nose tackle Vince Wilfork joined Brady on the team. Wilfork and Mankins are starters, Brady and Welker reserves. The biggest omission for the Patriots was Randy Moss, who leads the league in receiving touchdowns.
Brady has passed for 4,212 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 65.7 percent of his passes. He made the Pro Bowl for the fifth time, but Peyton Manning will start at quarterback.
Welker has been the most prolific wide receiver in the league, catching passes at a higher rate than any player in league history. Despite missing two games with an injury, Welker leads the league with 122 catches for 1,336 yards, second in the NFL. Welker made his second Pro Bowl and is the only Patriot to make the game for the second straight year.
Mankins has made the Pro Bowl in two of his five seasons since the Patriots selected him in the first round out of Fresno State. He is one of two Patriots to start every game this season, and he has started all 79 games in his NFL career. He and John Hannah are the only Patriots guards to make the Pro Bowl since 1970.
Wilfork made his second Pro Bowl. He has become one of the league’s elite run stuffers, and he put together perhaps his best season while playing with his contract situation for next season unresolved. In his locker, Wilfork put up a sign that reads “Do My Job!’’
Moss, who has made the Pro Bowl six times, will not be joining his teammates this time. He leads the league with 13 touchdown receptions, three of which came Sunday against the Jaguars, and is seventh with 1,189 receiving yards. But Reggie Wayne of the Colts, Andre Johnson of the Texans, and Welker were selected over him.
Eight Vikings made the Pro Bowl, the highest number of any team. This season, the Pro Bowl will be held in Miami one week before the Super Bowl - not in Hawaii a week after, as has been the custom.
“Don’t get it twisted,’’ Wilfork wrote on his Twitter account last night. “I love the Pro Bowl . . . but hope I can’t go because I will be at [the] Super Bowl the next week.’’
“I thought we had made it very plain that 16-0 was not a goal for us,’’ Polian said on the NFL Network. “What we’ve said - it seems repeatedly since Halloween almost - was that 16-0, we did not feel was a historic achievement.
“What was important to us, and what we tried very hard to do, coming off a short week against Jacksonville, after we had wrapped up the home-field advantage, was to set two records. One was for the most consecutive regular-season games won. We were tied with New England for that, and now we have it for ourselves. And secondly, for the most games won this decade, and I don’t believe anyone can catch us now, no matter what happens this week.
“We felt those were both extremely historical milestones that were worth going out there and risking everything for.’’
This season, the Colts passed the Patriots for most wins this decade, a mark that currently stands at 115.
Polian also discounted the Patriots’ undefeated regular season by pointing out the 1972 Dolphins previously had done that and also won the Super Bowl.
“New England did not win the Super Bowl, and they are not considered an undefeated team, and so it would not have been complete had we not gone all the way,’’ Polian said. “And to us, since it had been done before, it was not as historic a milestone.’’
This past Sunday, the defense completed a turnaround. The Patriots looked assured and fast, shutting out the Jaguars in the first half and allowing one inconsequential touchdown in the second. They made pivotal stops and game-swinging plays, punctuating them with chest bumps and dog piles.
Once a unit uncertain of itself and ineffective, the Patriots defense has played its best football of the season over the past three weeks. They have allowed 27 points and 888 yards combined in the past three games, all victories. No team has allowed fewer points over that span, and only the Jets and Ravens have surrendered fewer yards.
They coupled their improvement Sunday with a renewed swagger.
“Overall, I think guys are kind of gaining some confidence back,’’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I think we kind of lost it a little bit there midway in the season. We had a couple rough goes at it.
“I think anytime that happens, your confidence gets a little bit down. Once you start coming back and then having some success, that confidence grows. When that confidence grows, the energy grows, and then everybody kind of feeds off of it.’’
Following their meltdown in New Orleans, the Patriots allowed Chad Henne and the Dolphins to pick them apart in a 22-21 loss. But the low point really came after the Saints debacle, when the Patriots’ confidence wavered. Pees felt he needed to show his defense that they had not played as poorly as the experience led them to believe.
“There were really five plays that are absolutely horrendous and terrible,’’ Pees said. “But there are 50-some other plays where maybe guys really didn’t play all that bad.’’
One month later, Pees has a different task. This week, he said, he made it a point to show his defense the five or so plays they did not execute well.
“It’s 35-7, but you probably didn’t play maybe quite as well as you thought you did,’’ Pees said. “It’s never as good as you think and it’s never as bad as you think, and it’s up to us as coaches to always point out both sides of it.’’
“What’s going to happen now is we’re going to find a game plan,’’ said Belichick. “Players are going to come in [today]. And everybody is going to get ready to play. That’s how we’re going to approach it. Whoever plays, plays. Whoever doesn’t play, doesn’t play.
“We could go out there on the first play of the game and something could happen and somebody could be in there. Everybody needs to be ready to go all the time.’’
One argument for resting Brady is self-evident when examining the Texans roster: Bernard Pollard, the Chiefs player who knocked Brady out for the year in Week 1 last season with a blow to the knee, now plays safety for the Texans.
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.