It was at some point after his 105-yard sprint for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in mid-November when Jacoby Jones realized that his first season with the Ravens most likely would end in Honolulu.
Jones, who has three return touchdowns this season and leads the NFL in kickoff return average, was named to the Pro Bowl team for the first time in his career. Selected as a return specialist for the AFC, Jones said he’ll bring his mother and his lead blocker, Anthony Allen, on the trip.
“This means a lot,” said Jones who signed a two-year deal with the Ravens in May after he was cut by the Houston Texans. “It says you are in the elite of the elite, which is tough to do, and that takes a lot of consistency and hard work. But again, a lot of praise goes to the guys blocking in front of me.”
Jones should have plenty of company in Hawaii as six Ravens were selected for the game, which will be played Jan. 27 at Aloha Stadium, the week prior to the Super Bowl.
Joining Jones as starters are fullback Vonta Leach, offensive guard Marshal Yanda and safety Ed Reed. Running back Ray Rice and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata made the team as reserves. Safety Bernard Pollard was selected as a first alternate, meaning he’d make the team if a player ahead of him can’t participate.
Jones was the only first-time selection in the group.
“I had a chance to come here, and it’s been a breath of fresh air,” said Jones who is the first Raven to have multiple kickoff return touchdowns in either a season or a career. “As soon as I walked through the door, they told me to be myself and that they’d give me an opportunity. They told me to make plays when they call my number, and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
Reed has now made the Pro Bowl nine times in his 11-year career. Ngata is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, while Rice and Leach both made it for a third time. Yanda also is a two-time Pro Bowl starter.
The Ravens have had at least five players named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons.
“It really is a great thing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s something that you really feel so good for those guys, especially a number of guys have made it a number of years in a row. You look at a guy like Ed Reed, who has made it all these years in a row. It almost becomes expected, but then what an accomplishment that really is. … I think most of us look at it like it’s a team thing. Vicariously, we all take pride in that. When a guy makes it on offense, all the guys on offense feel like they were part of that. It’s a big deal.”
The rosters for the AFC and NFC were selected based on the votes of players, coaches and fans, with each group counting for one third of the vote. Pollard and Ravens left tackle Michael Oher both won the fan ballot at their position, but they were not immediately selected for the game.
Reed’s selection generated some outside criticism because the safety has struggled at times this season, making 58 tackles, four interceptions and totaling 15 passes defended. Several football pundits voiced the opinion that San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle should have been on the team.
“I wouldn't expect anything different from Ed Reed,” Ravens cornerback Corey Graham said. “He's Ed Reed. It's great to see him make it this year. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason.”
Ngata, who will back up interior defensive linemen Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots and Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals, also has had a relatively quiet year by his standards. Dealing with knee and shoulder injuries, Ngata has 51 tackles and five sacks in 14 games.
Rice is sixth in the NFL and second in the AFC in yards from scrimmage per game (107.7). He also has 10 total touchdowns and ranks first among AFC running backs in receptions (61). He’ll play behind starters Arian Foster of the Texans and Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Honestly, the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl. I always put that out there but to have that amount of respect around the league is something you never take for granted,” Rice said.
Leach, who has made the Pro Bowl in both of his seasons as Rice’s lead blocker, agreed with Rice, acknowledging that while it’s nice to get recognized by his peers, it’s far more important to reach the Super Bowl which will be held Feb. 3 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Players participating in the Super Bowl do not play in the Pro Bowl the week before.
“I just want to win. I don't play this game for individual awards,” Leach said. “I'd rather be in New Orleans than go to the Pro Bowl.”