Pro Bowl shutout hardly a surprise
When you're scraping at the bottom of the NFL, after doing the same thing a year ago, your best players aren't going to get much recognition when it comes to post-season accolades. Not that this 2-12 team had many candidates worthy of a February trip to Hawaii to play in the NFL's all-star game anyway. But the 49ers did have a few. Defensive end Bryant Young comes to mind. So does kicker Joe Nedney, whose chances would have been better had he not had such strong competition at his position. So do linebackers Derek Smith and Julian Peterson. But that's about it. Everybody else on the San Francisco roster? Check back next season. Or the season after that. As coach Mike Nolan explains, "We feel we have some players whose individual performances certainly warrant recognition. Obviously, our football team and our record comes into play. That's the way it is and probably the way it should be for the most part. It's a little disappointing, but it's understandable." Actually, it's as easy to understand as basic math. The 49ers are 2-12 after coming off a 2-14 season. They rank last in the NFL in both total offense and total defense. There are more hapless numbers that can be brought up as evidence, but you get the point. So, for the first time in 25 years, the 49ers are looking at having no representation at the Pro Bowl. It appeared that would be their fate last season – when the Niners also were zilched in voting for the game – but long-snapper Brian Jennings was added to the NFC roster by coach Jim Mora as a need player in February, thus preserving San Francisco's streak of sending at least one player to the Pro Bowl 24 seasons in a row. That streak likely is to end this year, unless outside linebackers Lance Briggs of Chicago, Keith Brooking of Atlanta or Derrick Brooks of Tampa Bay can't make it to Hawaii for some reason. That might allow Peterson – a Pro Bowler for the Niners in 2002 and 2003 – to keep San Francisco's streak alive. Unless Jennings saves the day at the last moment like last year. Peterson is the only San Francisco player designated by the NFC as a Pro Bowl first alternate. Nedney – whose left foot has accounted for 43 percent of the 195 points scored by the 49ers this year – is the NFC's second alternate behind Arizona's Neil Rackers and New York's Jay Feely. Rackers is having an incredible season that just can't be overlooked, even though he's playing for the downtrodden Cardinals. Feely is just ahead of Rackers as the NFL's leading scorer among kickers with 128 points, primarily because he gets so many scoring opportunities with New York's seventh-ranked offense. Nedney has made 23 of 25 field-goal attempts this year and is having one of his best seasons, but he has virtually no chance to appear in the first Pro Bowl of his 10-year career primarily because of the team he is playing for and the kind of year the 49ers are having. "It's tough to gauge, because a lot of it is stats and politics and things like that," Nedney said. "And guys that have made it before get preferential treatment, if you will. It means what it means, and I'm not one to question it. I got second alternate, so I'm pretty fired up. It's win-place-show, and I showed." Comparatively speaking, Nedney probably is having a better season than Peterson, but Peterson doesn't have the same kind of competition this year at outside linebacker. In fact, Peterson – who has shown flashes of returning to top form in recent months – could make an argument that he's playing as well as Briggs and Brooking, even though he hasn't even been San Francisco's best linebacker this year. That distinction belongs to Derek Smith, who leads the 49ers with 141 tackles this year, well ahead of Peterson's 77.5. Peterson, set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, was realistic about missing a Pro Bowl berth that would have been another asset to enhance his value on the open market next year. "The last couple of years before I got hurt (in 2004), I made a lot of plays and I was a real big impact guy," Peterson said. "This (season), I've been kind of up and down at times. I feel like I should have made more impact." Then, without missing a breath, Peterson said, "I thought the person that really deserves to be there was Bryant Young. Just the way he plays so solid. A lot of people already counted him out – that he's in his last year, that he's just a run-stopper now. But he's one of the leading sackers in the NFL. He lets you know that age isn't nothing but a number. It just depends on how good you are playing and how much your production is. I'd like to see him go over there. I wish he could take my spot (as a first alternate)." Young, making a successful transition to end from tackle in the 49ers' new 3-4 defensive scheme, was at or near the top of the NFL in sacks for the first three months of the season before damaging ligaments in his right knee against Seattle on Nov. 20. That forced him to miss three games, which made his numbers suffer, but he was going to have a difficult time making it anyway with strong NFC competition at the position. Perennial Pro Bowler Julius Peppers of Carolina and New York sackmeisters Osi Umenyiora (12.5 sacks) and Michael Strahan (11.5) are the NFC's representatives at end. Young would have had a much better chance had he still been listed as a tackle, where he spent his first 11 NFL seasons. "I knew it would be tough for me to get there," Young said. "But you can't take anything away from those guys. It's just how it worked out." And it's the way it will continue to work out for the 49ers until they start winning again. Until then, if the Niners want to make any vacation plans for Hawaii in February, they'll be paying for them.
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