The New England Patriots will send a quartet of players to Orlando this January. But the players are hoping to miss it with Superior aspirations.
It’s become an annual event that no New England Patriots want to attend.
On Tuesday night, the NFL Network announced the 2017 Pro Bowl rosters and to no surprise there was a host of Patriots who made the list.
Quarterback Tom Brady was named to his team record 11th Pro Bowl, while special teamer Matthew Slater (fifth selection), Devin McCourty (second selection), and Dont’a Hightower (first selection) were also named to the roster.
While New England has become a regular contributor to the Pro Bowl roster selection, the Patriots had their fewest players selected to the NFL All Star game since the 2008 season, when they only had only two. That was also the last year that Tom Brady was not named to the Pro Bowl roster as he was recovering from an ACL injury.
Recent Pro Bowl games have failed to actually feature Patriot players on the field, however, as many opt to either rehab lingering injuries or, as is the hope this year, to prepare for the Super Bowl.
Nevertheless, the selections give us pause to look back on what has been an outstanding year for the Patriots to this point.
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Hightower’s selection is particularly notable as he was widely viewed as a snub from last year’s contest. The Patriots fifth year pro has become one of the most reliable middle linebackers in the NFL and is having one of his best seasons as since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Alabama, registering 64 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.
More impressive than Hightower’s stats, however, are his leadership abilities on the field. Head coach Bill Belichick has consistently praised Hightower’s work ethic, which is one of the primary reasons he calls the plays in the defensive huddle.
"“I think Dont’a has done a good job for us,” Belichick said back in November. “I meet with the (captains) every week. I think he has a good pulse on the team, on his teammates, what the defense needs to do and so forth. I rely on him and the other players that are in there –Devin is a defensive player — so they do a great job with the overall communication and preparation of their respective units and the entire defense.”"
McCourty’s second selection was also long overdue. The seventh year pro out of Rutgers garnered his second overall selection, but he has been a consistent presence in the Patriots defensive backfield ever since he exploded on the scene with a Pro Bowl rookie season. Since moving to free safety in 2011, McCourtey has blossomed into one of the best safeties in the NFL. His long range, ability to break on the ball, and great tackling have made him into the versatile mold of players that Belichick values on either side of the ball.
While the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense is sending two players to the Pro Bowl, it lacked a familiar face from last year: cornerback Malcolm Butler. While Butler has steadily become of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, he faced stiff competition with Denver Bronco’s selections Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
Snub or not, Butler’s focus is the same as the rest of the team: they’d rather not go to Orlando and play in the Pro Bowl if it means that they can go to Houston and play in the Super Bowl.