The last time the Green Bay Packers had three defensive players selected as starters for the Pro Bowl, they won the Super Bowl.
So, perhaps that’s a good omen for the Packers entering Sunday’s must-win regular-season finale against Chicago.
The Packers had five players picked for the 43-man NFC Pro Bowl team that was announced on Tuesday: left tackle Chad Clifton, safety Nick Collins, wide receiver Greg Jennings, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson. The quintet is the most for the Packers since the 2007 team that reached the NFC championship game also had five players picked.
THE PRO BOWL ROSTERS
The game will be played on on Jan. 30 in Honolulu — one week before the Super Bowl. Voting was one-third by fans, one-third by players and one-third by coaches. Offensive players voted for defensive players, and vice-versa.
“I was excited, definitely excited,” Jennings said. “But the first thing I said to him was, ‘Man, unfortunately I won’t be able to go because I’m trying to be in Dallas (for the Super Bowl).’ That’s where my mind-set is and I’m sure that’s where all the other guys’ mindset is.”
Collins, Matthews and Woodson were named starters, with the three defenders being the most for the Packers since the 1967 squad won Super Bowl II behind five defensive starters (Herb Adderley, Willie Davis, Bob Jeter, Dave Robinson and Willie Wood).
The Packers rank second in the NFL in scoring defense with 15.8 points allowed per game. Pittsburgh is No. 1 with 14.9; Baltimore is third with 17.5
This is Woodson’s third consecutive starting nod and seventh Pro Bowl nod overall. Collins, who was picked for his third consecutive Pro Bowl team, was a starter in 2008. This is Clifton’s second Pro Bowl, having made the team in 2007. Matthews made the team as a rookie last year. Jennings made the team for the first time.
“I’m definitely excited about the recognition,” Jennings said in quotes provided by the team. “I’ve never been one to really worry about it. I’ve always wanted to make sure I’ve done my part, doing what I needed to do to help the team win, and if the individual recognition came with that, it did. If it didn’t, it didn’t. My mind-set has never been focused on individual first. It’s always been team-oriented first, and whatever comes after that is a plus.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and cornerback Tramon Williams were named first alternates. Rodgers, a selection last year, was beaten out by Michael Vick, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees at quarterback. Williams was beaten out by Woodson, Asante Samuel and DeAngelo Hall. Considering Woodson has skipped the game the last two years, Williams more than likely will get the nod.
Other alternates include wide receiver Donald Driver, linebacker A.J. Hawk, nose tackle B.J. Raji and guard Josh Sitton.
Clifton, an 11th-year pro, is coming off arguably his finest performance of the season after shutting down Osi Umenyiora. He’s on course to start all 16 games for the first time since 2007.
Collins is the first Packers safety since LeRoy Butler (1996 through 1998) to earn three consecutive Pro Bowls. After leading all NFL safeties with 13 interceptions over the previous two seasons, Collins has fought through injuries to post three interceptions.
“I think so,” Collins said on whether his toughness was recognized by the voters. “They know what type of player I am. I want to be out there with my teammates and help the organization get wins. I feel like if I’m able to walk, I’m able to play. If I’m not bleeding and things aren’t broken, I feel I can go out there and help my team. If it’s just going out there a couple plays or starting, it doesn’t matter.”
Jennings ranks second in the NFC and fifth in the NFL with 1,168 yards on 72 receptions, and his 12 touchdown catches match his career high. His 16.2-yard receiving average ranks No. 1 in the NFC among players with 60 catches. It’s remarkable production considering he had just 14 catches in the first five games.
“At that point in time, I was just kind of frustrated with the lack of opportunities, and like I’ve stated before, being targeted is one thing, but when you actually have an opportunity to make a play, it’s totally different,” Jennings said. “After that Washington game, my opportunities increased and I tried to make the best of them. After that, (the season) kind of took off.”
Matthews is the first Packer since running back John Brockington (1971, 1972) to be selected for the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons. He’s tied for third in the league with 12.5 sacks and is a leading candidate for defensive player of the year, which Woodson won last year.
“I don’t know where that all stands,” he said of the top defensive award. “I’m not so much into the individual accolades. The only thing I’m worried about is getting this next win and clinching a playoff spot. I’m not even sure when they announce it. If I’m in the running, it’s truly an honor to even be mentioned as one of the top guys for defense in 2010. But who knows where that ends up. Without a team that’s playing good team ball and without great players around you, you’re not going to be in a position to even be in the running to win such accolades like a Pro Bowl appearance or defensive MVP.”
Only Samuel has more interception than Woodson since the start of the 2008 season, 20 to 18. While Woodson has only two interceptions this season, he’s tallied career highs in tackles (97) and forced fumbles (five).
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.