Defense can take a bow
Pro Bowl selections a sign of improvement
FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots defense has faced its share of criticism this season, but some respect must have been earned, based on the results of Pro Bowl voting.
Four of the six Patriots chosen for the AFC squad are defensive players. Tackle Vince Wilfork was named a starter, while linebacker Jerod Mayo, rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, and safety Brandon Meriweather were named as reserves. Quarterback Tom Brady and guard Logan Mankins were the other two selections.
“It’s great for the team in general, but specifically our defense, just having guys named to the game, named to the team,’’ said Mayo, who received his first Pro Bowl selection. “It’s a great honor for all of us.’’
The Patriots may be ranked 27th in total defense, but they have excelled in forcing turnovers, including seven in last Sunday’s win over the Bills.
“I’m proud of everyone,’’ Wilfork said. “There are a bunch of guys in here that easily could have been a Pro Bowler, but there are only so many you can pick. But I’m definitely proud of the guys who made it. As a team, we’re very, very honored to be in the position to do some good things.’’
“As a kid, you dream about playing in the Pro Bowl and watching all those great players,’’ McCourty said. “When I found out I was selected to play, I was excited.’’
Meriweather, named to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive year, believes he has worked to do what is asked of him.
“I haven’t been going outside of the box, trying to make plays. I’m doing all the little things,’’ he said. “I’ve been just doing what my coaches ask me and it’s been paying off.’’
Hasn’t missed a beat Mankins didn’t need to play a full season to show he was worthy of a Pro Bowl selection. After a contract dispute ended in November, Mankins returned and has played in eight games, enough to be named a Pro Bowl starter.
“I must have tricked them into voting for me,’’ he said.
“He’s been outstanding on and off the field,’’ coach Bill Belichick said. “He brings a great attitude, work ethic, just superior toughness to the field, to our football team, that unit. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Friday practice or fourth quarter or first play of the game.’’
If anyone thinks Mankins is playing his best in the hopes of getting a better contract next season, he said that isn’t the case.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever watched any of our games, but I tend to play hard the majority of the time,’’ Mankins said. “I don’t think I’m playing for a contract right now.’’
Awaiting clearance Offensive lineman Dan Connolly is taking it day by day as he tries to shake off the effects of a concussion he suffered against the Packers Dec. 19.
Connolly has not been seen much around the locker room since his 71-yard kickoff return in that game led to him being named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Yesterday, Connolly said he is “just working to get better’’ and waiting for clearance to return to the field. He has not practiced since.
“I can only do what the trainers ask me to do,’’ Connolly said. “I’m doing all I can to get back out there and play on Sunday.’’
Bad feelings The bug that has hit the team is around for another week. Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain did not practice yesterday because of flu-like symptoms.
Connolly, and defensive linemen Mike Wright (concussion) and Ron Brace (elbow) also did not participate.
Brady (right shoulder, foot), receiver Deion Branch (knee), linebacker Jermaine Cunningham (calf), tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip), and defensive lineman Myron Pryor (back) were limited.
Suggs comes clean Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs changed his story, telling reporters in Baltimore that he did indeed vote for Brady for the Pro Bowl.
“Let’s go ahead and let the cat out of the bag: We did vote for him,’’ Suggs said. “We’ve got quarrels and our beefs, but you’ve got to respect play. It was kind of decided as a unit who we vote for. We did vote for him.’’
Pro Bowl players from the teams participating in the Super Bowl will not play in the Pro Bowl.
“One of us is not going to get to play in the game,’’ said Suggs, who was selected as a Pro Bowl reserve. “I hope he has a good time in the Pro Bowl, and hopefully everything goes according to plan, I’ll be watching him from Dallas.’’
Farnham returns Wide receiver Buddy Farnham was signed to the practice squad.
Farnham, an Andover native and former Brown star, was with the team as a rookie free agent during training camp but was released Sept. 4.
Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.