Monday, February 11, 2008

A Rare Sight: Six Browns in the Pro Bowl

In recent years, watching a Cleveland Brown perform in the Pro Bowl became even more rare than seeing the Browns in the playoffs. The Browns last made it to the playoffs after the 2002 season, while the last Brown to make the Pro Bowl prior to this season was Jamir Miller, who earned that honor after the 2001 season. The Browns returned to the Pro Bowl in a major way this season, with six players making the trip to Hawaii: return specialist Josh Cribbs and receiver Braylon Edwards earned starting nods, Ryan Pontbriand was selected as a long snapper and quarterback Derek Anderson, tight end Kellen Winslow and left tackle Joe Thomas made it as injury replacements. This was a major goal for Winslow, who delayed offseason knee surgery because of the possibility that he could be added to the Pro Bowl roster. Thomas is the first Browns offensive lineman to make it to the Pro Bowl since Cody Risien made the squad following the 1987 campaign and he is the first Browns rookie Pro Bowler since Chip Banks in 1982. The last time the Browns had six Pro Bowlers was 1994, which is also the last time that the Browns won a playoff game; the Bill Belichick-coached Browns beat, ironically, the New England Patriots before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Anderson and Winslow are the first Browns to make the Pro Bowl at their positions since Bernie Kosar (1988) and Ozzie Newsome (1986) respectively.

It is difficult to stage a football All-Star game at full intensity, because no one wants to risk having star players suffer serious injuries in an exhibition game. Blitzing is not allowed, intentional grounding is permitted and other rules adjustments favor not only safety but also the offense. Not surprisingly, these games tend to be high scoring affairs and the 2008 edition was no exception. The AFC raced to a 24-7 first half lead and the teams combined to tie the Pro Bowl record for most first half points (48, a mark set in 2000). Terrell Owens and Adrian Peterson each scored two touchdowns as the NFC rallied to post a 42-30 victory. Owens had a game-high eight receptions for a game-high 101 yards, while Peterson received the MVP after rushing for 129 yards, the second best total in Pro Bowl history.

All of the Browns players saw extensive action. Thomas and Pontbriand performed well in their important, albeit non-glamorous, roles. Cribbs averaged 26 yards on six kickoff returns, gaining 41 yards on his best effort. Anderson completed passes to both Edwards and Winslow, the first time in literally decades that a Browns quarterback has connected with a Browns receiver in the Pro Bowl. Anderson did not put up great numbers but the initial backlash in Cleveland about his statistics in this game is bizarre. It is important to understand that while trying to lead the AFC back from a 12 point deficit late in the game he threw several long incomplete passes before his final attempt was picked off by Darren Sharper. Anderson completed 10 of 26 passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns. Edwards finished with two receptions for 40 yards, while Winslow had one reception for 11 yards.

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