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Analysis: Some thoughts on the Patriots and the Pro Bowl

12.28.11 at 12:54 am ET
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Five thoughts on the news that the Patriots had eight players named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday:

‘€¢The Patriots led the AFC with eight players on the roster, a number that feels about right. However, in my mind, there were four guys who might feel like they’ve gotten hosed: left tackle Matt Light, punter Zoltan Mesko, cornerback Kyle Arrington and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Light is having one of the finest seasons of his lengthy career, while Miami’s Jake Long and New York’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson made it on rep. (We’ll concede the other spot to Cleveland’s Joe Thomas.) Ferguson in particular was a curious choice. As for Mesko, he probably doesn’t have the same case as Light, but if Oakland’s Shane Lechler (who is having a very good year) comes down with an “injury,” expect Mesko to get a call. While Arrington leads the conference in interceptions, it’s hard to argue with the trio of New York’s Darrelle Revis, Denver’s Champ Bailey and Houston’s Johnathan Joseph. Hernandez has a beef as well, as he lost out to San Diego’s Antonio Gates, who is having a subpar season with the Chargers.

‘€¢Three no-brainers for New England? Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in his career, and has 4,897 passing yards and 36 touchdowns in one of the best seasons of his career. Welker, the NFL’s leading receiver with 116 catches 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns, makes it for the fourth time. Meanwhile, Gronkowski, who has 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns, will be making his first appearance on the AFC roster. ‘€œIt was a great surprise, an honor,’€ Gronkowski said on the NFL Network. ‘€œThe teammates around me have helped me get to this level. With the veteran receivers, Aaron [Hernandez] at the other tight end, we have so many weapons, I’€™m just the one who happens to get (the ball).’€

‘€¢The selection of guard Brian Waters and defensive end Andre Carter are noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they were given up on by other teams, but eventually found a home this past offseason in New England. And while the Patriots made headlines with their offseason acquisitions of Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, it was the two relatively under-the-radar additions of Waters and Carter that helped bring some stability to the offensive and defensive line, respectively. The two remain classy, businesslike professionals who have been a tremendous influence on younger players. Because of his injury, Carter won’t be able to play, but he still kept a sense of humor about the news when it came down Tuesday night.

‘€¢Of all the players, the safest bet is that the franchise is happiest for special teamer Matthew Slater. Slater, who was a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2008, has made a professional career out of doing whatever it took to stay on the field (wide receiver, safety, special teamer), and along the way, has earned a rep as one of the most high-character guys in the New England locker room. The fastest guy on the team made a confession to me this past fall. “You look at my college career and how things went,” he said, “and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m playing football right now.” He knows just how lucky he is to have the opportunity to be playing professional football for a living, and it’s good to see someone like that rewarded with a spot in the Pro Bowl.

‘€¢Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork is having one of the best seasons of an already spectacular career, and even though his tackle or sack numbers aren’t among the league leaders. it was good to see him rewarded. Through 15 weeks, Wilfork has already played far more snaps than he has in years past, and continues to operate at a very high level. And while he’s always been versatile, this season, that flexibility has shown up time and again for the Patriots. Legendary defensive lineman Fred Smerlas joined us this past week on “NFL Sunday” and a great job explaining why Wilfork has been so good this season.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Antonio Gates
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