When the Pro Bowl rosters were announced on Tuesday, some familiar faces were on the list. New England's Tom Brady earned his fifth trip to the Pro Bowl, while Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork each earned their second such honor.
QB Tom Brady (Reserve): 5 Pro Bowls (2001, 04, 05, 07, 09)
Brady's appearance on the list is no surprise, though he as named as an alternate - along with San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers -- behind Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning. Brady's performance through 15 games includes 4,212 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. It is his third 4,000-yard season and his fifth season throwing at least 25 TD passes.
Brady finished second in the fan vote with just over 800K votes, behind only behind Peyton Manning's 1.54 million in the AFC, and fourth in overall voting behind Manning, Drew Brees (1.48 million) and Brett Favre (1.46 million).
DL Vince Wilfork (Starter): 2 Pro Bowls (2007, 09)
Patriots' defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was another no-big-surprise All Pro pick. Wilfork was the leader in fan much like he's a leader in the locker room. Wilfork finished with 294 K votes in the fan ballot ahead of Baltimore's Haloti Ngata (287 K) and Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton (287K).
The former 2004 first round pick (21st overall) out of Miami, has been a key component of New England's defense. Since Wilfork's arrival, New England has finished in the top 10 in defense four times (2004, 05, 07 and 08.
As a football player, that is something that you may not set up as a goal, but everybody in the back of their mind has it as a goal of theirs, even if they say or don't say it - what it means to be a Pro Bowler," Wilfork said of the honor Wednesday. "I am very thankful and happy to be chosen for my second one."
In the last year of his contract, Wilfork said getting a new deal wasn't his priority.
"When I signed up I signed up for six years and I am going to honor that," Wilfork responded. "It will work itself out sooner or later it will come to a time where it will have to work itself out and whatever happens, happens."
OL Logan Mankins (Starter): 2 Pro Bowls (2007, 09)
When he was selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft (32nd overall) out of Fresno State, many experts wondered if the Patriots had reached with this pick. Just the second Patriots offensive guard to earn Pro Bowl honor since Hall of Famer John Hannah last earned the nod in 1985. Two Pro Bowls later, Mankins has proven worthy of the pick, as he and his teammates continue to protect Brady while opening holes for the New England ground game.
With just 134K votes (5th in the AFC), Mankins may not be the most popular pick among fans, he has proven he's an invaluable assent among the nameless offensive linemen in the conference.
"There're no stats really to judge us on. Probably not too many fans go on the site and vote for linemen," said Makins. "So a lot of it comes down to the guys you play against and what they see you do and all the coaches that watch you all year and how they vote."
Mankins admitted he wasn't the cleanest player in the game, but he takes pride in the way he plays, comparing himself to San Diego Chargers lineman Kris Dielman.
"I watch a lot of guards during the week, so guys I like to watch
I like to watch Kris Dielman. He also made it from San Diego," Mankins admitted. "He plays a lot like me, hitting people after the whistle and playing dirty."
WR Wes Welker (Reserve): 2 Pro Bowls (2008, 09)
Wes Welker leads all NFL receivers with 122 receptions heading into the final week of the season. Welker was able to break the 100-catch total for the third straight season despite missing two games this year due to injury. The accomplishment puts him in rare company, one of just four in NFL history to manage the feat along with Marvin Harrison (4), Jerry Rice (3), Herman Moore (3) and Brandon Marshall (3).
Welker knew that setting a career high for receptions (122) and yardage (1,336) to lead New England's receiving corps was something special. He had a feeling that it might translate into another Pro Bowl nod.
"I feel like I had a pretty good idea it would probably happen, but you never know in this league and how things will turn out. I was definitely excited and glad to hear it," Welker admitted.
Though the Pro Bowl is in Hawaii this year, Welker was glad the last one was in Hawaii.
"Getting to go out to Hawaii and hang out with the family and have a good time out there. It was definitely a lot of fun," the Patriots wideout said. "We just had a good time and have a lot of fun. It's more of a relaxing type atmosphere and I just enjoyed myself."
Despite the honors, the Patriots know they need a win and a Cincinnati loss in order to obtain the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. As nice as the feeling of being elected to the Pro Bowl may be, these Patriots know that the ultimate goal is winning it all.
"I've played in the Pro Bowl," said Mankins. "So I'll give that one up to try to win another Super Bowl. That would be a lot more special."