Bears head NFC picks

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Associated Press

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — A nervous Lance Briggs spent Tuesday night comparing himself to other linebackers. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris had it on high authority that he would be named to the Pro Bowl.

They both were among six Bears selected Wednesday in a vote by fans, players and coaches for the Feb. 12 game in Honolulu. Linebacker Brian Urlacher and center Olin Kreutz were picked for the fifth time, while Briggs, Harris, cornerback Nathan Vasher and safety Mike Brown earned their first trip.

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‘‘My reaction was I was just relieved,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘I don’t have to think about it anymore.’’

That’s how things go in Pro Bowl selection: Play on a good team, and good things happen. Play on a bad team, and they don’t.

So the Philadelphia Eagles, who had nine Pro Bowlers last season when they went to the Super Bowl, had just one: middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.

Indianapolis, with its 13-1 record, predictably got the most players in the voting by fans, players and coaches announced Wednesday. The Colts had seven after thinking they had eight — offensive tackle Tarik Glenn was told he had made it, then the NFL announced that there had been a computer error and Glenn was the first alternate behind Kansas City’s Willie Roaf, Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden and Cincinnati’s Willie Anderson.

‘‘I’m happy with the guys who made it,’’ Colts coach Tony Dungy said. ‘‘And I’m a league guy, but this is a bad, bad situation … the less I say the better. You’ll have to ask the league.’’

Still, the Colts got some predictable stars in: quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, and defensive end Dwight Freeney. They also had three first-timers: center Jeff Saturday, linebacker Cato June and safety Bob Sanders.

Other than Urlacher and Kreutz, the Bears are newcomers, players who helped Chicago to a 10-4 record after a 5-11 finish last season. The six Pro Bowl selections were the most for the Bears since 1990.

The last time they had five on defense was during the 1985 championship season, when Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Otis Wilson and Dave Duerson were picked.

‘‘I think most of us got in from the players’ and coaches’ votes,’’ Brown said. ‘‘So I think it just shows the respect that we have through the circles of the players that we play (and) the coaches that have watched us on film.’’

They see a team holding opponents to a league-low 10.8 points per game. And they see a relatively young group, with Vasher and Harris in their second season and Briggs in his third.

Urlacher, the leader among defensive players in the fan balloting with 447,145 votes, has 161 tackles (95 solo), six sacks, nine tackles for loss, six passes defensed and one forced fumble.

‘‘I think he’s the best defensive player in the league,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘I think he should be MVP of the National Football League.’’

Manning, the NFL’s MVP the last two seasons, led a distinguished trio of AFC quarterbacks, joining two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady of New England and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer.

The NFC QBs are Jake Delhomme of Carolina, Matt Hasselbeck of Seattle and Michael Vick of Atlanta.

Two rookies made the Pro Bowl, including San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman and Houston kick returner Jerome Mathis.

Like the Bears, Atlanta had six players on the NFC squad, while the New York Giants and Seattle had five apiece.

New York defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora were the first pair from the same team at that position since Miami’s Jason Taylor and Trace Armstrong in 2001. Giants running back Tiki Barber joins his twin brother, Ronde, a cornerback for Tampa Bay, for the second straight season.

Another noteworthy selection was Minnesota’s Koren Robinson, chosen as the NFC’s kick returner. Robinson, the ninth overall pick in the 2001 draft by Seattle, has had a series of off-field problems that included a guilty plea to drunk driving and a suspension last season. He was cut by the Seahawks before the season.

The Vikings gave Robinson a chance to return kicks, and he leads the NFC with a 26.6-yard average and had an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Giants. He has since moved into the starting lineup at receiver as well.

‘‘It’s a funny feeling right now,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘Looking back on everything I’ve been through, being in an alcohol treatment facility, I thought I burned all my bridges as far as all the organizations in the NFL were concerned.’’

Four teams had no players chosen — Cleveland and Tennessee in the AFC, and San Francisco and Green Bay in the NFC. Of those four, the Browns have the best record at 5-9.

The announcement of the teams sparked the usual debates about those players who also desrved to go, but weren’t selected. Among those who had good years, but weren’t chosen include: Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, Cincinnati running back Rudi Johnson, New York Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, San Diego linebacker Donnie Edwards, Jacksonville linebacker Mike Peterson and Tennessee defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, although he was named an alternate.