Three members of the Atlanta Falcons — who have already secured home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and are currently tied for the best record in the NFL — were named to the Pro Bowl team, but none came on the defensive side of the football.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez, playing in what is expected to be his final season, highlighted the trio, earning his 13th berth to the game. Gonzalez, whose 88 catches are tied for eighth in the league, is the Falcons’ only player who was named a starter.
The other two are quarterback Matt Ryan, who earned his second Pro-Bowl berth, and second-year wide receiver Julio Jones, who earned his first trip to the game. Jones has 76 receptions for 1,142 yards and 10 touchdowns.
That means the biggest snubs for the Falcons likely were defensive end John Abraham, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety Thomas DeCoud. Abraham’s 10 sacks are tied for 14th in the NFL but his six forced fumbles — with turnovers a key to the Falcons’ success this season — tie him for third in the league.
Both safeties on the San Francisco 49ers — Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson — were named starters in the Pro-Bowl while DeCoud, who is tied for fifth in the NFL in interceptions with six, did not make it. Only one other safety in the NFL (the New York Giants’ Stevie Brown) has more interceptions than DeCoud. The 49ers, 10-4-1 and currently third in the NFC, had nine players make the team, including six on defense.
All five of the linebackers to make the NFC team play in a 3-4 alignment. Weatherspoon plays in the Falcons’ 4-3 defense. Weatherspoon, according to stats compiled by the Falcons’ coaches, has 101 tackles, which ranks third on the team. He was inactive for three games this season with an injury.
More Falcons’ players still could be named to the team as others drop out because of injury. In 2010 when the Falcons finished 13-3 and also earned the NFC’s top seed in the playoffs, they ultimately had seven players earn Pro-Bowl berths.
Weatherspoon was asked earlier in the day if he were bracing himself for a possible snub.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just focused on this week’s game with Tampa and doing what we need to do. … If I make it, I’ll be happy. If I don’t, it won’t bother me much.”
Regardless, the Falcons were focused on going deep in the playoffs on Wednesday and hopeful that no matter who was named to play in the Pro Bowl, they would have to opt out.
Falcons right tackle Tyson Clabo made the team as an alternate in ’10-’11 season. He said the players don’t worry about it too much.
“It’s obviously a very big honor and all that, but you can’t put too much time worrying about stuff like that,” Clabo said. “We have big goals and aspirations. Hopefully, whoever makes it will have to decline the invitation.”