FLOWERY BRANCH – The league’s fans, players and coaches recognized the special season the Falcons are having by placing seven players on the NFC Pro Bowl team on Tuesday.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez, fullback Ovie Mughelli, defensive end John Abraham and specialist Eric Weems were named to the team. The Falcons are 12-3 and have the best record in the NFC.
The players, while flattered by the honor, are hoping that they will not be available to play in the game, which is set for Jan. 30 in Hawaii.
The game will be played the week before Super Bowl XLV. If the Falcons, who have clinched a playoff berth, reach the league’s grand game the players will be exempt from playing in the all-star game.
This is White’s third straight Pro Bowl selection.
Gonzalez has now made the Pro Bowl 11 times, but this is his first selection in the NFC.
For Abraham, who is second in the league in sacks with 13, this is his fourth Pro Bowl selection. He was passed over in 2008 despite sitting a franchise-record with 16.5 sacks.
Turner was selected in 2008.
Ryan, Mughelli and Weems were selected for the first time.
Weems, a former undrafted free agent from Bethune Cookman, leads the teams in special teams tackles with 16. He’s also the punt and kickoff returner. Chicago’s Devin Hester was selected as the returner and Weems as the specialist.
White was Weems’ biggest supporter.
“He’s done a terrific job of just going down their and making plays,” White said. “(Against Tampa Bay) he made a real big play with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter to help us out. It was really the momentum changer in the game that gave us that spark that we needed to win down the stretch.”
Weems was named the NFC special teams player of the week after his franchise record 102 yard kickoff return against Tampa Bay on Dec. 5.
Ryan, who was named the rookie of the year in 2008, is having his best season. He’s completed 335 of 539 passes for 3,469 yards. He has 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a passer rating of 89.9.
White thinks Ryan should be a candidate for the league’s most valuable player award.
“He’s doing a good job of leading the team,” White said. “It’s a quarterback driven league so they usually win it. I think our guy should win it.”
Abraham was the lone player from the Falcons’ defense to make the team. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, who leads the team in tackles with 142, was beaten out by Chicago’s Brian Urlacher and San Francisco’s Patrick Willis.
Also, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux was considered a strong candidate. Detroit rookie Ndamukong Suh, Dallas’ Jay Ratliff and San Francisco’s Justin Smith were selected as the interior linemen.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter