CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – In a season that has spiraled out of control over the last 2 months, seeing light at the tunnel has become difficult.
In fact that light appeared to be the size of the tip of a pin, but Friday night it got a little larger and brighter.
Left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron and cornerback Joe Haden were all named to the 2014 Pro Bowl, and safety T.J. Ward was named an alternate.
The 5 selections are the most for the Browns since the team went 10-6 and sent 6 to the Pro Bowl in 2007. They are also the most from any other team in the AFC North this season.
Maybe the Browns aren’t as far off from winning as their 4-11 record indicates.
“It’s important that guys have played their best or had their best seasons,” head coach Rob Chudzinski said. “The coaches, the work they’ve put into it, and those players, the work that they’ve put into it, and some guys are really emerging out of nowhere that were question marks. I think those are all good signs and all indicative of the direction that we’re going.”
Gordon, Cameron and Haden will all make their first trip to Hawaii, Mack was selected for the second time and Thomas was named for a seventh consecutive year.
Having more Pro Bowlers than wins in a season is nothing new to the NFL. A year ago, the 2-14 Kansas City Chiefs sent 6 to Hawaii and have rebounded this season to go 11-4 and make the AFC playoffs.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t had quite the success that we want, but it is coming,” Mack said.
Despite playing in just 13 games and working with 3 different starting quarterbacks, Gordon currently leads the NFL in receiving yards with a franchise record 1,564. He became the only player in NFL history to top 200 receiving yards in back-to-back games and totaled 774 receiving yards in 4 straight games, 649 in 3 games – both are NFL records, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“My initial reaction was definitely taken aback,” Gordon said. “I was definitely shocked, surprised but a dream come true honestly. I’m definitely grateful.”
Gordon joins Braylon Edwards (2008) and Webster Slaughter (1990) as the only Browns wide receivers selected to the Pro Bowl since 1971.
Cameron has had a breakout season catching 75 passes for 848 yards – ranking him ranked second among tight ends in both categories league-wide.
“I think he’s really come on and come out of nowhere in our eyes, in my eyes, from a guy who we weren’t sure about, to a guy who’s proven that he’s a playmaker, and a guy that can help you win games,” Chudzinski said.
He joins Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome as the only Browns tight ends to catch 7 or more touchdowns in a season as well as Newsome (1982, 1985-86), Milt Morin (1969, 1972), and Kellen Winslow (2008) as the only Browns tight ends selected to the Pro Bowl.
Haden, in his fourth season, established himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the league this season. He is tied for the team lead with 4 interceptions and second with 21 passes defensed. He is the first Browns cornerback selected to the Pro Bowl since Frank Minnifield in 1990.
“It’s super humbling to be in the Pro Bowl,” Haden said. “My thing is to do my part, do my thing, do what I can do to get the Browns to be the best. Just getting to the Pro Bowl, we know that I was trying to be the best corner in the game and I was just overwhelmed that it happened.”
Mack, who is set to become a free agent this offseason, has not missed a single snap (4,934) in his first 79 career games since being selected by the Browns No. 21 overall in 2009.
“It’s a great honor,” Mack said. “You put a lot of work into this sport, and it’s good to get recognized.”
Thomas, who like Mack hasn’t missed a snap (6,859 through 111 games) since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2007, joins Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown as the only Browns players in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl in their first 7 seasons. He is the 11th player in NFL history to do it – 9 of the 10 others are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With Mack and Thomas competing in their second Pro Bowl together, it marks the first time that a pair of Browns offensive linemen have participated in multiple All-Star games since Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Gene Hickerson and tackle Dick Schafrath accomplished the feat in 4 consecutive years (1966-69).
“Offensive line is a team position,” Mack said. “You really depend heavily on the people next to you, and it’s a cohesive unit. I owe a lot to my coaches and my teammates.”
For the first time, the Pro Bowl is “unconferenced.” Gone is the familiar AFC vs. NFC matchup that had existed since 1971. Instead, players were selected without regard to conference in voting by fans, coaches and players. For example, the top six quarterbacks following voting earned distinction as All-Stars, regardless of how many were from AFC or NFC teams.
The first-ever Pro Bowl Draft will be nationally televised during a live 3-hour primetime broadcast on NFL Network at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 22, with Pro Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders serving as alumni team captains for their Pro Bowl squads – Team Rice and Team Sanders.
The game itself will be played on Sunday, Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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