GREEN BAY – This time around, opposing coaches and players agreed with the fans: Aaron Rodgers belonged on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
One year after failing to make the team – a snub he said was a genuine disappointment – the Green Bay Packers quarterback and potential NFL MVP was chosen as the NFC starter on Tuesday, one of seven Packers voted to the roster.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings, cornerback Charles Woodson, center Scott Wells, fullback John Kuhn, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman B.J. Raji were also named to the NFC team. Rodgers, Kuhn, Matthews and Woodson are starters.
Wells, Kuhn and Raji were selected for the first time. The selection was Matthews’ third in his three NFL seasons, while Jennings was picked for the second time (and second in a row) and Woodson made his eighth team overall and fourth with the Packers.
Kicker Mason Crosby is a first alternate, losing out to San Francisco’s David Akers, while linebacker Desmond Bishop, kick returner Randall Cobb, tight end Jermichael Finley, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, right guard Josh Sitton and cornerback Tramon Williams were second or third alternates.
For Rodgers, who amassed the most fan votes of any player regardless of position during balloting on NFL.com, the selection meant he received the respect of his peers and opposing coaches, who did not feel he was deserving last season, when Philadelphia’s Michael Vick, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan were chosen ahead of him.
Rodgers, who was chosen to the 2009 team as the NFC’s third quarterback but started the game when Brees (Super Bowl XLIV) and Minnesota’s Brett Favre (injury) didn’t play, was a first alternate last year. This year’s quarterbacks are Rodgers, Brees and the New York Giants’ Eli Manning.
“It’s important, no doubt about it,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPNMilwaukee and ESPNMadison before the teams were announced. “I think last year the biggest disappointment to me was when you were voted second by the fans, who have 1/3 of the vote, and you know a little bit about mathematics, that tells you that you were voted no higher than fourth by the players and the coaches.
“So to think about that, there were at least three guys voted ahead of me last year and potentially four or five – that’s probably the most disappointing thing that came out of last year’s Pro Bowl voting. This year, I believe I’m first among the fans. I would have to be voted very low by the players and coaches to not make the Pro Bowl, so we’ll see what happens.”
Rodgers, Kuhn, Woodson, left tackle Chad Clifton, guard T.J. Lang, safety Morgan Burnett, Crosby and special teams ace Jarrett Bush won the fan voting at their respective positions, but only three wound up making the NFC roster. That Clifton, who hasn’t played since Oct. 9, and Burnett, who was been inconsistent after playing just four games as a rookie last year before a season-ending knee injury, were chosen by the fans shows that their picks can be flawed at times.
The defending Super Bowl XLV champions have an NFL-best 14-1 record and have secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it. The seven selections are the most since the 1967 team placed nine players on the team and the most since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Packers placed six players on the NFC roster in 1997, the last time they were the defending champions.
The San Francisco 49ers, with eight selections, led the NFC. Last year, when they had a 9-6 record when the rosters were announced, the Packers placed five players on the roster -- left tackle Chad Clifton, safety Nick Collins, Jennings, Matthews and Woodson. Rodgers and Raji were named as alternates last year, with Raji losing out to Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, Dallas' Jay Ratliff and San Francisco's Justin Smith last year,
The Pro Bowl will be played on Jan. 29 in Hawaii, the Sunday before Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. As has been the case the past two years, players on teams participating in the Super Bowl will not play in the game.
“I think often there’s too much name recognition that goes on,” Rodgers said of the voting process. “I think there’s more guys who really don’t know what they’re doing – receivers voting for defensive tackles or linebackers based on name recognition only and that’s how some guys get in. There’s an adage you get in the Pro Bowl a year after you probably should and you’re voted in a year longer than you deserve, so there’s a lot of name recognition that goes into it whether you agree with that or not.”
Rodgers enters Sunday’s regular-season finale against Detroit leading the NFL in passer rating (122.5, a possible NFL record), touchdown passes (45) and yards per attempt (9.25), while ranking second in completion percentage (68.3) and No. 3 in passing yardage (4,643). His 45 TD passes are a single-season franchise record and rank No. 4 in NFL history, while he also broke the team’s single-season record for passing yards.
Asked during his show which of his on-the-bubble teammates deserved to make the team, Rodgers cited Matthews, Nelson, Raji and Sitton. Only Matthews and Raji, who came in together as the Packers’ two 2009 first-round draft picks, were in fact chosen.
Matthews, who is the first Packer since running back John Brockington (1971, ’72, ‘73) to be chosen for the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons, has a team-best six sacks, 69 tackles (49 solo), three interceptions, three forced fumbles and nine pass breakups. While his sack numbers are down compared to 2009 (10) and 2010 (13.5), Matthews has registered 21 quarterback hits and 40 pressures this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He had 11 hits and 36 pressures in the regular season last year and 14 hits and 25 pressures in ’09.
Rodgers said Matthews is particularly deserving given that the team’s second-best pass rusher last year, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, left as a free agent and signed with Philadelphia before the season.
“Clay is not going to have the numbers that maybe (the Eagles’) Jason Babin (18 sacks) does or (Dallas’) DeMarcus Ware (18), but he’s probably been our most consistent player on defense all year,” Rodgers said. “With the attention that he (receives), not having Jenkins inside has probably hurt us a bit there. Obviously Jason Babin, I’m hoping he got Cullen a good Christmas gift because he’s probably been his biggest asset there.”
Kuhn, a fan favorite in Green Bay, becomes the first Packers fullback to be selected since William Henderson in 2004. Kuhn has scored six touchdowns this season (four rushing, two receiving) and has rushed for 73 yards on 28 carries (2.6 avg.). He also has caught 13 passes for 67 yards (5.2 avg.).
“I think it’s the fact that I’m versatile at fullback. I can play the traditional fullback role and lead-block, and the coaches also entrust the ball-carrying opportunities that I have,” Kuhn said in quotes distributed by the Packers public-relations department. “I think the combination of the two of those really gets my name out there.”
Raji is the first Packers defensive tackle to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Bob Brown in 1972. He enters the finale with three sacks, 40 tackles (18 solo), three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
“Wth the position that I play, a lot of times you kind of feel like your contributions go unnoticed, but this is just confirmation that somebody out there is noticing the work I’ve put in and some of the plays I make, and I’m appreciative for that,” Raji said in quotes distributed by the team. “It just shows me that the real football minds and the people that understand the game are able to make decisions based off of the film and not necessarily just off of popularity and things like that. It’s good to know that it’s a balanced process.
“It’s really very fulfilling, because the Packers drafted me with high expectations, and in my second year starting, I am now able to build on having won a championship and also the all-star accolades. Ultimately, it’s an honor that can be shared by our whole defensive line. I sent a mass text message to all my (defensive line) guys telling them how much I appreciated them and loved them, because without them, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to achieve this.”
Wells, who entered the league as a seventh-round draft pick in 2004 and began on the practice squad, is the first Packers center to be named to the Pro Bowl since Mike Flanagan in 2003. Wells has started every game for an offense that ranks No. 1 in the league in points scored (34.3), No. 3 in passing yards (297.0) and No. 5 in total yards (395.5).
“It means a lot, being that it is my eighth year in the league,” Wells said in quotes distributed by the team. “For it to take this long and to finally make it, it definitely is big for me. It’s always been a dream of mine, so I am excited. … I am not real big on talking about myself, but I think this has probably been my best year so far.
“I take it as an honor as being a part of a special team. I think some of it comes off of the success that we had last year, and then rolling into this year and the success we have continued to have this year definitely pays dividends. As a team is successful, the individual accolades come, so I know it is a direct correlation to what the team has been able to do.”
Jennings, who suffered a knee injury Dec. 11 against Oakland and is expected to return for the playoffs after missing the final three regular-season games, leads the team in receptions (67) and ranks second to Nelson in receiving yards (949) and touchdown receptions (nine).
The NFC’s four receivers are starters Calvin Johnson of Detroit and Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona. Jennings and Carolina’s Steve Smith are the reserves.
Johnson leads NFC receivers with 85 receptions for 1,437 yards and 15 TDs. Smith has 73 receptions for 1,308 yards and six TDs; Fitzgerald has 71 receptions for 1,262 yards and eight TDs. Nelson is tied for 20th in the NFC in receptions (59), is eighth in yards (1,101), second in yards per catch (18.7) and second in touchdowns (12). The New York Giants Victor Cruz (76 catches, 1,358 yards, eight TDs) and Atlanta’s Roddy White (96 receptions, 1,227 yards, eight TDs) also were left off the NFC roster.
“Jordy Nelson I think has had a phenomenal season, averaging a ton of yards per catch, been so consistent for us,” Rodgers said. “My efficiency when throwing to him, they told me at the (NBC) production meeting last week is the highest in the league as far as passer rating from quarterback to receiver. That’s directly related to his ability to catch the ball and do something with it after he catches it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.