By Jeff Zrebiec
9:14 PM EST, December 27, 2011
The Ravens, who enter Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, could be well-represented next month in the Pro Bowl with seven players being selected Tuesday for the game, including six as starters.
But count linebacker Terrell Suggs among the Ravens who have no desire to be in Honolulu on Jan. 29.
“To be clear, I have no intentions of playing in the Pro Bowl,” said Suggs. “I plan on being in practice with my teammates that week, getting ready for the Super Bowl.”
Suggs did say that he was “excited and honored” but he made it clear that cold Indianapolis — and not sunny Hawaii — is the desired destination for the Ravens, who nonetheless garnered the second-most Pro Bowl selections in team history. Only the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers had more with eight apiece. The Green Bay Packers also had seven selections.
Suggs, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, safety Ed Reed, running back Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach were named Pro Bowl starters. Right guard Marshal Yanda was selected as a reserve for the first time in his five-year career.
“I am ecstatic, that is really the only thing I can say,” said Yanda, who re-signed with the Ravens this offseason, getting a five-year and $32 million contract. “This is such a great honor, something that I never really expected. When I made it to the NFL, I was so happy to be on a team and playing in the league, and now, to be a part of a Pro Bowl team is something very special. You don’t get there alone. You have to be on a good team and playing well as a unit. I am thankful for my teammates and coaches who helped get me to where I am.”
Yanda — who has not been called for a penalty all season — and Leach have helped clear the way for Rice, who leads the NFL with 1,869 yards from scrimmage and is fifth with 1,173 rushing yards. Both Leach and Rice will go to the Pro Bowl for the second time in their careers.
“This is a team award, and I hope that everyone on our team can take pride in the fact that they helped seven of their teammates attain this honor,” said Rice who has 13 touchdowns, tied for the fifth most in the NFL. “But I will celebrate after the season. We have unfinished business to take care of over the next few weeks.”
Leach made the team last year as the lead blocker for Houston Texans star running back Arian Foster, but he took extra pride in earning the recognition with the Ravens, and specifically with Rice.
“This means a lot to me, especially with it being my first year on a new team. With changing teams, the lockout and trying to learn a new playbook, I am so proud and happy to be going my backfield mate,” he said. “This is a great thing and something to celebrate, but that will have to wait until after the season. Right now, we are getting ready for Cincinnati and a strong playoff run.”
Pro Bowl recognition has almost become almost routine for the Ravens’ celebrated defensive standouts. Lewis has been selected for the game 13 times in his 16-year career, Reed has been named eight times in his 10-year career, Suggs has gone five times in nine years and Ngata three times in six seasons.
Lewis and Reed have been named to every AFC Pro Bowl team since 2005, and their inclusion this year comes despite the fact that both have had relatively quiet seasons, at least in terms of big plays. Lewis has a team-high 88 tackles to go along with two sacks, one interception, six passes defended and two forced fumbles despite missing four games with a toe injury. Reed has 48 tackles, three interceptions, one sack, eight passes defended and one forced fumble.
“It’s definitely an honor and a blessing,” Reed said. “To come back after an injury last year and to be voted by my peers and fans is special. I am very appreciative of the honor, but right now, there are bigger goals in mind. With the Bengals coming up this week and a push to the playoffs, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is definitely something I am proud of and am thankful for.”
Suggs leads the AFC with a career-high 13 sacks. He also has 64 total tackles, two interceptions and six forced fumbles.
The Pro Bowl teams are based on the votes of fans, players and coaches, with each counting for a third of the total. There were 43 players chosen per team.
Left guard Ben Grubbs was named a first alternate for the Pro Bowl, meaning that he would get an invitation to the game if any guard on the AFC team can’t attend.
Special teams ace and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was selected as a second alternate. Quarterback Joe Flacco and safety Bernard Pollard are third alternates, and right tackle Michael Oher is a fourth alternate.
“When I found out, I felt the same way I did the first time I made it,” Ngata said. “I know that this wouldn’t be possible without my teammates. Hopefully, though, I won’t be able to play in the Pro Bowl because I want to be playing in Indy.”
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