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Patriots Pro Bowlers 'honored' by vote

But New England's representatives in the NFL all-star game hope they don't actually have to play in it.

The call came from none other than head coach Bill Belichick.

He had news for his star inside linebacker Jerod Mayo: he'd been named to his first-ever Pro Bowl.

"I was very excited. It's my first one … great honor," Mayo told reporters after Wednesday's practice. "I think it's been a pretty good year, but I still see room for improvement."

For guard Logan Mankins, this marks the third time, and second season in a row, that he's been so feted – despite having only played half the season due to a contract dispute. The move came as somewhat of a surprise, Mankins admitted, but acknowledged that his reputation as a Pro Bowl-caliber player may have played a part in fans, coaches, and his peers voting him in as a starter again.

"I'm sure it does. Yeah … I must've tricked them into voting for me," he grinned.

Nose tackle and co-captain Vince Wilfork, also earning his third Pro Bowl nod, acknowledged that there were plenty of other players on the Patriots roster who didn't make the all-star cut, but were nonetheless deserving of accolades.

"I'm proud of everyone,'' he said. "There're a bunch of guys in here that easily could have been a Pro Bowler, but there're only so many you can pick. But, I'm definitely proud of the guys who made it: Jerod [Mayo], Devin [McCourty], and [Brandon] Meriweather, [and] Tom [Brady] and [Logan] Mankins on offense.

"I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're very proud of this team, not just those individuals who have been named Pro Bowlers. As a team, we're very, very honored to be in the position to do some good things."

Last season, the NFL moved the Pro Bowl date from its traditional week after the Super Bowl to the weekend before. That means, the players from the teams playing in the championship game won't be able to play in the Pro Bowl … and that's just fine with the Patriots.

"Yeah, you really don't want to play in the game," Mayo chuckled.

For first-timers like himself and rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, that would also mean missing out on a free trip to Hawaii, where the game returns after a one-year hiatus. But in the locker room today, all the players insisted their focus was on one game: this Sunday's regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins. Even though the outcome is essentially meaningless, with New England having secured the number-one seed in the playoffs.

"There aren't many people that come in as a rookie and expect all this to happen. I'm just taking it all in stride and focusing on this game coming up on Sunday," McCourty remarked.

"My focus is all on Miami now," added Mayo. "We want to keep this thing rolling. You really don't want to go into the postseason with a loss. Everybody's ready to play. We want to win this game."

"I want to play football,'' Wilfork maintained. "Especially this time of year, I think the more games you play … the more consistent you can be. That's where I stand. I want to play every game I can, crunch time. I think anybody who loves the game would want to be playing right now and I'm one of [those] guys. There are a bunch of guys in this locker room that want to play and want to win. "

"I'd rather keep playing and keep sharp," Mayo concluded. "I you don't go this week, you're off another week, then you're rusty going into the postseason game. So, I'm sure everybody that's healthy and ready to go will play."

That's a potentially dangerous proposition, however, as wide receiver Wes Welkerlearned last year. In the regular season finale at Houston, Welker blew out his left knee and missing the following week's Wild Card Playoff loss to Baltimore.

His inspirational comeback, in time for training camp this past summer, was more than enough to earn him the Patriots' Ed Block Courage Award. Each NFL team bestows the award on a player who best exemplifies the principles of courage and sportsmanship while also serving as a source of inspiration.

Welker insisted, however, that he has no reservations about playing this Sunday in a game that has no bearing on the standings.

"No, not really. I'm here to play football," he said. "Whatever Coach Belichick has in store for us, I'm going to get ready to play."

Wed12/29 Practice Notebook

For news and notes from Wednesday's practice, please visit the PFW Blog.

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