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Three Falcons, six ex-UGA, Tech stars named to NFL Pro Bowl

Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh (3) celebrates with Fred Evans, left, and Charlie Johnson, right, after kicking a field goal in the closing seconds of the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 26-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh (3) celebrates with Fred Evans, left, and Charlie Johnson, right, after kicking a field goal in the closing seconds of the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Vikings won 26-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)

2012 AFC, NFC Pro Bowl rosters

AFC

Offense

Quarterbacks — Tom Brady, New England; Peyton Manning, Denver; Matt Schaub, Houston

Running Backs — Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Arian Foster, Houston; Ray Rice, Baltimore

Fullback — Vonta Leach, Baltimore

Wide Receivers — A.J. Green, Cincinnati; Andre Johnson, Houston; Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis; Wes Welker, New England

Tight Ends — Rob Gronkowski, New England; Heath Miller, Pittsburgh

Tackles — Duane Brown, Houston; Ryan Clady, Denver; Joe Thomas, Cleveland; Marshall Yanda, Baltimore

Guards — Logan Mankins, New England; Wade Smith, Houston

Centers — Chris Myers, Houston; Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh

Defense

Ends — Elvis Dumervil, Denver; Cameron Wake, Miami; J.J. Watt, Houston

Interior Linemen — Geno Atkins, Cincinnati; Haloti Ngata, Baltimore; Vince Wilfork, New England

Outside Linebackers — Tamba Hali, Kansas City; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis; Von Viller, Denver

Inside/Middle Linebackers — Derrick Johnson, Kansas City; Jerod Mayo, New England

Cornerbacks — Champ Bailey, Denver; Antonio Cromartie, N.Y. Jets; Johnathan Joseph, Houston

Strong Safeties — Eric Berry, Kansas City; LaRon Landry, N.Y. Jets

Free Safety — Ed Reed, Baltimore

Specialists

Placekicker — Phil Dawson, Cleveland

Punter — Dustin Colquitt, Kansas City

Kick Returner — Jacoby Jones, Baltimore

Special Team — Matthew Slater, New England

NFC

Offense

Quarterbacks — Robert Griffin III, Washington; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay; Matt Ryan, Atlanta

Running Backs — Frank Gore, San Francisco; Marshawn Lynch, Seattle; Adrian Peterson, Minnesota

Fullback — Jerome Felton, Minnesota

Wide Receivers — Victor Cruz, N.Y. Giants; Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Julio Jones, Atlanta; Brandon Marshall, Chicago

Tight Ends — Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta; Jason Witten, Dallas

Tackles — Russell Okung, Seattle; Joe Staley, San Francisco; Trent Williams, Washington

Guards — Jahri Evans, New Orleans; Mike Iupati, San Francisco; Chris Snee, N.Y. Giants

Centers — Jeff Saturday, Green Bay; Max Unger, Seattle

Defense

Ends — Jared Allen, Minnesota; Julius Peppers, Chicago; Jason Pierre-Paul, N.Y. Giants

Interior Linemen — Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay; Henry Melton, Chicago; Justin Smith, San Francisco

Outside Linebackers — Clay Matthews, Green Bay; Aldon Smith, San Francisco; DeMarcus Ware, Dallas

Inside/Middle Linebackers — NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco; Patrick Willis, San Francisco

Cornerbacks — Tim Jennings, Chicago; Patrick Peterson, Arizona; Charles Tillman, Chicago

Strong Safeties — Donte Whitner, San Francisco

Free Safeties — Dashon Goldson, San Francisco; Earl Thomas, Seattle

Specialists

Placekicker — Blair Walsh, Minnesota

Punter — Thomas Morstead, New Orleans

Kick Returner — Leon Washington, Seattle

Special Team — Lorenzo Alexander, Washington

NEW YORK — Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson want to cap their sensational comebacks with Super Bowl appearances. For now, they can be proud of Pro Bowl spots.

So can Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, one of two rookies chosen Wednesday for the Jan. 27 NFL all-star game.

Manning missed all of the 2011 season with neck and back problems that required several operations. He then signed with Denver as a free agent and has led the Broncos on a 10-game winning streak to take the AFC West.

“I know there’s great players out there in the NFL, but there’s some great players on this team this year that deserve to go,” said Manning, whose 12th Pro Bowl is a record for quarterbacks. He ranks fourth in league passing this year, has thrown 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Four other Broncos made the AFC roster: DE Elvis Dumervil, linebacker Von Miller, UGA star CB Champ Bailey (63 tackles, two interceptions) and tackle Ryan Clady. Bailey’s 12th appearance is a record for defensive backs.

“My goal has always been to go out and help the team win and play at a high level,” Manning added. “Anything that comes along with that, like being honored as a Pro Bowl selection, is very humbling.”

Minnesota’s Peterson tore up his left knee on Christmas Eve last year, underwent major surgery, then was back for the season opener. He’s gone from uncertain to unstoppable, running away with the rushing title with a career-high 1,898 yards and lifting the Vikings toward an NFC wild card.

“Coming into the season after going through the rehab process, I just told myself that I wanted to lead my team to a championship and make sure that I contribute and do my part,” Peterson said. “I’ve been doing it.”

Griffin is one of three rookie QBs who had superb debut seasons, along with Andrew Luck of Indianapolis and Russell Wilson of Seattle. Luck and Wilson weren’t voted to the Pro Bowl by players, coaches and fans, although their teams are in the playoffs; Griffin can get to the postseason if Washington beats Dallas on Sunday.

“You can’t play down those kind of things,” Griffin said. “I’ve always said my whole football career that you don’t play for awards. They just come. You don’t say you’re going to win the Heisman. You don’t say you’re going to win MVP. You go out and you prove it on the field, and if everyone feels that way then they’ll give you that award.”

San Francisco had the most players selected, nine, including six from its second-ranked defense. Houston was next with eight, six on offense.

Kansas City, despite its 2-13 record that is tied with Jacksonville for worst in the league, had five Pro Bowlers, including RB Jamaal Charles, who like Peterson is coming back from a torn ACL.

One other rookie, Minnesota kicker and former UGA star Blair Walsh, was chosen. Walsh has nine field goals of at least 50 yards, an NFL mark.

The AFC kicker is at the other end of the spectrum: Cleveland’s Phil Dawson earned his first selection in his 14th NFL season.

“I deliberately tried not to know,” Dawson said. “We wanted to watch the show with my kids. I had a really good idea what was going on, but it was a pretty priceless moment when we saw the name flash up on the screen. My kids went nuts ‘cause my wife went nuts. That makes these 15 years of waiting worth it.”

Another record setter will be heading to Honolulu: Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.

Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season yards receiving record and has 1,892 yards with a game left.

Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez set the record for Pro Bowls at his position by being chosen for the 13th time.

The league’s top two sackmasters, DEs Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston, were first-time selections. Watt has 20 1-2 sacks, one ahead of Smith; the NFL record is 22 1-2.

Other newcomers, along with Griffin, Walsh and Dawson, were AFC players tackle Duane Brown and guard Wade Smith of Houston; safety LaRon Landry of the Jets; kick returner Jacoby Jones of Baltimore; and punter Dustin Colquitt of Kansas City.

For the NFC, first-timers were Giants WR Victor Cruz; Atlanta WR Julio Jones; Seattle tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger; San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Donte Whitner; Chicago cornerback and former UGA star Tim Jennings and defensive tackle Henry Melton; Washington tackle Trent Williams and special teamer Lorenzo Alexander; Minnesota fullback Jerome Felton; Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy; and New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead.

Eight teams had no Pro Bowl players: Carolina, Philadelphia and St. Louis in the NFC, Tennessee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, San Diego and Oakland in the AFC.

FALCONS PLACE THREE ON PRO BOWL TEAM: Ryan has been selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career. He has completed 394 of 571 pass attempts (69.0 percent) for 4,481 yards with 31 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a 100.2 passer rating this season. His completions, yards, touchdowns, and passer rating are all career bests. Ryan has already broken his own single-season franchise records for completions and passing yards and his 31 touchdown passes are tied for the club record with QB Steve Bartkowski. Ryan ranks second in the NFL in completion percentage, third in completions, and fifth in passing yards, touchdowns, and passer rating. The fifth-year signal caller has led the Falcons to an NFL-best 13-2 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Gonzalez was named to the Pro Bowl for the 13th time in his career and the third time in his four seasons with the Falcons. The future Hall of Famer has continued to shine in his 16th season, catching a team-high 88 passes for 889 yards with eight touchdowns. He ranks second in the NFC among tight ends in receptions, yards, and touchdowns this season. Gonzalez joined Hall of Fame WR Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history to record 15 seasons with 50-or-more receptions and tied WR Tim Brown’s NFL record with his 10th straight 70-catch season. Additionally, his 88 catches are tied for the fourth most in the conference. Gonzalez has more career receptions (1,237), receiving yards (14,227), touchdown catches (103), 100-yard games (30), Pro Bowl appearances (12) and 1,000-yard seasons (four) than any other tight end in NFL history.

Jones earned his first career Pro Bowl selection after setting career highs with 76 receptions, 1,142 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He joined WR Roddy White (1,309) to make the Falcons the only team in the NFL with two 1,000-yard receivers this season, and 2012 marks the first time since the 1998 season that the Falcons have had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers. Jones’ 10 touchdowns rank fourth among NFC wide receivers, while his yardage and receptions rank in the top 10. Jones has hauled in three touchdown receptions of 40-or-more yards this season and his 13 receptions of 25-plus yards rank fifth in the NFL this season. His 18 career touchdowns are the most by any Falcons receiver in his first two seasons.

EX-UGA STARS GREEN, ATKINS, JENNINGS MAKE PRO BOWL: Former Georgia star wideout A.J. Green, now with the Bengals, made his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday. Green has 95 catches for 1,324 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

Geno Atkins, Green’s teammate at defensive tackle on the Cincy defense, also made the Pro Bowl. He had 50, four forced fumbles and 13 sacks.

Jennings, meanwhile, rounded out the former UGA stars given the NFL’s highest individual honor. Jennings had a remarkable season in Chicago with 58 tackles and a team-high eight interceptions.