Who Deserved It?
Manning is obviously beyond reproach. Working all season with an ineffective running attack and two inexperienced receivers — he was without Anthony Gonzalez, who was supposed to have a big year, all season — he lead the team to a 14-1 record.
He authored seven fourth quarter comebacks. He further established himself in the two-minute offense and gained double honors as the one player his team cannot live without and the one guy you don't want to face with the game on the line and the ball in his hands.
The statistics were there, as they always have been, but Manning added another layer to his game and another footnote in his storied legacy in 2009.
Wayne was fourth in the league in yards, fifth in touchdowns, and fourth in receptions. There were players with more impressive numbers in the individual categories, but no receiver was able to combine the knack for making the big play, the little play, the game-changing play, the game-winning play, and the drive-sustaining play as well as Wayne. In a league of specialists, Wayne was a receiving Everyman and further cemented his status as a top-five player at his position.
After years of me lobbying for Clark to make the Pro Bowl, he finally got his chance. He lead all tight ends in receptions and touchdowns and finished second in receiving yards to fellow Pro Bowler Antonio Gates.
Clark is starting for the AFC in football's all-star game, but an excellent case could be made that he was the best tight end in all of football in 2009. Chances are that he will not only be voted as a representative for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, but as the All-Pro at his position, which is the highest honor a player can receive.
Freeney started the season strong, finished the season strong, and is still the engine that drives the Indianapolis pass rush. This is the second straight Pro Bowl for Freeney and he deserves every accolade awarded to him.
Who Possibly Didn't Deserve It?
There is a saying among NFL players that you get to the Pro Bowl two years after you should be and you're voted in two years after you shouldn't be.
Saturday falls into that category simply because he was the one offensive lineman that the best team in the league could not afford to lose. Nick Mangold got voted in at the right time, as he is a very skilled player both in the running game and pass protection, as well as taking on many of the line calls this season for rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez.
But, Tennessee center Kevin Mawae had two different starters at quarterback, weathered an 0-6 start, has paved the way for the league's leading rusher and second ranking rushing attack, and calls the protections for a unit that yielded only 15 sacks this season. If there were three spots available at center, Saturday would have deserved consideration and probably should have gotten voted in, but Mawae was probably passed over because his team is 7-8.
Putting Mathis on this list is not a slight against him, but more of an indictment of the process in general. Mario Williams had an off year and did not deserve to be the reserve end.
Mathis plays for a great team, had excellent stats, and authored a number of game-changing plays, as evidenced by his five forced fumbles. But, Buffalo defensive end Aaron Schobel had comparable stats — ten sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception — toiling away for a bad team that had no other pass rushing threat. He constantly faced double teams, was the player on the defensive line that opponents were game planning against, and faced a number of fourth quarters where the opponent was running out the clock with a lead.
Schobel and Freeney should be the starters and Mathis should be the reserve player.
Who Got Snubbed?
Gary Brackett had a courageous and productive season as the captain and heart and soul of the Colts defense. But, as an undrafted player that is part of a defense that doesn't garner many headlines, he was passed over. It's also difficult to pass over players with the pedigree and production of Ray Lewis and DeMeco Ryans.
But, Brackett had more tackles than Lewis and Ryans and trailed only Lewis in sacks (three to one). Also, since Clint Session led Indianapolis in tackles, it could be argued that he was more important in the scheme of things. There can be no doubt, though, that Brackett is the captain, leader, and most important player for the defense on the league's best team.
Antoine Bethea finished third on the team in tackles and tenth among safeties in tackles and also contributed four interceptions. With numerous injuries in the secondary, Bethea emerged as the quarterback for a pass defense that has had its ups and downs thus far this season and currently ranks 18th in the league.
Ed Reed has been struggling with injuries for a good part of the season and Jairus Byrd is now on injured reserve, so there is a very good chance that Bethea will have his ticket punched to Miami at some point. The issue with Bethea is that he does so many of the little things right, but doesn't author many game-changing plays, which is a big reason why Reed and Byrd were voted in by fans and players. The only time Bethea was on SportsCenter was when Randy Moss was running past him, so that's a tough image to overcome.
His solid play is one of the primary reasons Indianapolis been so successful, so Colts fans should hope that he does not change his game in order to get voted in.
At the End of the Day...
It is a nice honor to be voted into the Pro Bowl by your peers and fans, but the ultimate goal in this team sport is to win games and win championships. Hopefully, no Colts will suit up for the Pro Bowl on January 31st, as they will all be preparing for the Super Bowl.
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