The league’s most accomplished defense did it again.
The Seattle Seahawks placed three members of the NFL’s top-ranked defense on The Associated Press All-Pro team announced Friday: cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
It’s the first time Wagner’s been so honored in his three-year career. It follows his first Pro Bowl selection last week, despite the fact he missed five games into late November with a broken tendon and torn ligament in his foot.
His return is why the Seahawks are entering the playoffs on one of the best runs of defensive dominance in league history.
“It means a lot to me,” Wagner told Tim Booth of The Associated Press, who informed him and his teammates of their All-Pro selections this week. “I know I’m not really about rewards and stuff like that, but to get the recognition that I feel like I deserve is huge for me because I feel like I’ve been playing well since I came into the league.
“I’m on such a great defense that sometimes there are guys that get overlooked. And unfortunately I was one of them.”
“I think all of the things that has happened this year as far as the awards and the recognition and stuff like that it means so much more to me this year because everything I went through,” he said.
“Having to be in a cast for the first time — I hadn’t been in a cast since I was a little kid — then riding around on that little scooter and rehabbing … to still keep my mind right and work through all that stuff and still get the recognition I felt like I deserve just means a lot.”
Running back Marshawn Lynch, who had a career-best 17 total touchdowns in the regular season, and safety Kam Chancellor were named to the All-Pro second team. Chancellor came within two points in the voting from Seattle (12-4) having an unheard-of three of its four-man secondary as first-team All-Pro.
The Seahawks are the NFC West champions and conference’s top seed for the second consecutive season entering their divisional playoff opener at home Jan. 10. That’s following a bye this wild-card weekend.
Seattle and AFC North-champion Pittsburgh each had three All-Pros. Dallas led the league with four. The Steelers and Cowboys are hosting wild-card round playoffs games this weekend.
Sherman and Thomas are All-Pros each for the third consecutive season. They are thrilled Wagner got the recognition the first time — Sherman’s been lobbying for it for months.
Three of the Seahawks’ losses this season came after Wagner severely injured his foot early in the Oct. 12 game against the Cowboys. His return to full health in late November coincided with Seattle’s current six-game winning streak, during which the Seahawks have allowed 6.5 points and fewer than 200 yards per game. Seattle became the first team since the 1969-71 “Purple People Eaters” of the Minnesota Vikings to lead the league in points allowed in three consecutive seasons.
“I think they’re recognizing impact,” Sherman told the AP. “I think they’re recognizing what our defensive numbers are doing, what we’re doing as a whole as a defense.
“That goes to Earl Thomas and Bobby Wagner as well. I think people are starting to understand you don’t get the historical numbers that we’ve gotten without great players — and that should lead to more recognition for other players, as well: Mike Bennett, Cliff Avril, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor.”
His interceptions were down to four this season, but at 24 are still the second-most in the first four seasons of a career in NFL history since the merger; Oakland’s Lester Hayes and Dallas’ Everson Walls each had 25 to begin the early 1980s. The league’s reaction to Sherman began in the opener Sept. 4 when Green Bay’s All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not throw Sherman’s way one time. And that made Seattle’s defense even better — the Seahawks smoked the Packers by 20 points in that game.
“I think when you play at such a high level that you’re not always going to get the big numbers because it’s spread out so evenly,” Sherman said.
“Not a lot of people are going to challenge my side of the field a lot of times.”
Dallas’ All-Pros include guard Zack Martin, the only rookie on the squad. League rushing leader DeMarco Murray, tackle Tyron Smith and wide receiver Dez Bryant also made it.
There were 16 AFC players and 11 from the NFC.
Two members of the team — J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and Rob Gronkowski of New England — were unanimous selections.
Watt was listed on all 50 ballots by a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league, with 45 of the votes for defensive end and the other five for defensive tackle. So he actually was a first-team end and a second-team tackle in gaining his third straight selection.
“Everybody always says you try and make it so the other team can’t game plan you because they don’t know where you’re coming from,” Watt told the AP. “I mean, half the time I have no clue where I’m coming from, so it makes it pretty tough for the other people, I think, and that’s the goal.”
No such confusion for Gronkowski. He grabbed all the votes for tight end.
“He’s, I think, when you say a kid playing the game, that’s him,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “He don’t care about anything, stats, if we’re up or down, he’s playing one way. He’s playing hard and you can tell he’s just having fun with his friends on the field.”
Making their first All-Pro teams were all four Cowboys, Buffalo DE Mario Williams and DT Marcell Dareus, Kansas City outside LB Justin Houston, Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda, Green Bay fullback John Kuhn, Cincinnati kick returner Adam Jones and Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri joined McAfee.
“It’s pretty awesome,” McAfee said. “When we both signed back here (in March), that was the plan — to be the two best specialists in the league. I’m not sure I made it, but he certainly did.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made it for the second time; he also was the All-Pro QB in 2011.
Brown was next closest to sweeping the panel, earning 49 votes. Murray drew 48 and Houston 47.
“When you step into a stadium he’s a known issue, but still he performs,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Brown. “We could talk about some of the same things about guys like J.J. Watt. We knew what he was capable of when we were getting ready to play him, but it still doesn’t stop the storm from coming.”
Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas earned his fifth All-Pro spot, the most of anyone on the current team. Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis got his fourth All-Pro berth.
Repeaters from 2013 were Watt, Thomas, Detroit DT Ndamukong Suh, Carolina inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, Sherman and Thomas.
“I think (our) guys are getting more respect than we’ve gotten in the past,” Sherman said of the Seahawks. “The first thing I heard when we got here was we were South Alaska … nobody talks about us.
“The first thing we wanted to do was change that. And I think we’ve done that.”
Players are increasingly valuing All-Pro voting of the AP’s panel of experts over the voting for the Pro Bowl that is split among coaches, players and fans. The Pro Bowl has become something of a “beauty pageant” rewarding reputation and legacy at times over current performance, and the first-team All-Pro vote has become more selective and therefore increasingly seen as perhaps more “pure.”