BRIAN WESTBROOK was recognized with a Pro Bowl selection yesterday, the day after the 6-8 Eagles were eliminated from wild-card playoff contention, which either sharpens or slightly lessens the sting of the Birds' wasting one of the greatest years any skill position player has compiled in their 75-year history, depending on how you choose to look at it.
One of Westbrook's blockers, right guard Shawn Andrews, was the only other Eagle named, which is what happens when you go 6-8 - players who might be having Pro Bowl years get overlooked in favor of players with similar stats on better teams. Eagles defensive end Trent Cole, named a first alternate, has 12 1/2 sacks, more than two of the three NFC defensive ends selected yesterday - Green Bay's Aaron Kampman and New York's Osi Umenyiora (12 apiece). But Kampman's Packers are 12-2 and Umenyiora's Giants are 9-5. NFC sack leader Patrick Kerney (13 1/2), of Seattle, who hails from Newtown, also is going to Hawaii. Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, a six-time Pro Bowler limited by injuries this season, was selected as a second alternate.
Westbrook is having a season that made him pretty much impossible to ignore, which the fans, coaches and players have done a good job of doing in the past. His only previous appearance came in the Super Bowl year of 2004, as a first alternate who got to go when Seattle's Shaun Alexander couldn't. That year, 10 Eagles eventually earned Pro Bowl recognition.
This time around, Westbrook leads the NFL in total yards (1,896, on 337 touches, 5.6 yards per touch); his 1,191 rushing yards are second in the NFC to Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson (also selected, with 1,278 yards). Westbrook's 83 receptions lead all NFL running backs; in fact, he has a good shot at setting the franchise record for receptions, held by Irving Fryar (88 in 1996).
Westbrook, 28, in his sixth year from Villanova, said he hadn't been all that worried.
"I leave everything out on the field. I let the cards fall where they may. This year is really no different than other years. I just continue about my business, continue to do little things that I can do to help this team win, and hope for the best," he said.
Westbrook's total yards this season are the fourth-highest in franchise history. He seems destined to be compared to Wilbert Montgomery and Steve Van Buren, the franchise's two greatest all-time running backs, who rank first (6,538) and second (5,860) all-time in rushing yards. Westbrook needs 165 rushing yards over the last two games of the season to surpass Duce Staley (4,807) and become the Eagles' third all-time-leading rusher. Westbrook has 990 career carries; Staley had 1,200.
"I would hope that I would be remembered as a guy that would do anything he can for this team, to help his teammates continue to get better, to help his team win games," said Westbrook, who made national news by passing up a touchdown Sunday at Dallas, stopping at the 1 so the Eagles could run out the clock, rather than giving the ball back after a score. "I would do anything. I want to be remembered as a guy who was selfless . . . a leader in a way that a lot of people don't necessarily see him as a leader, but he was a guy, when he did have an opportunity to talk to the team and talk to the guys, they listened and they appreciated that."
Westbrook was asked whether making the Pro Bowl, along with Peterson and Dallas' Marion Barber (871 yards on only 176 carries), finally puts him into the ranks of the elite, instead of the underrated.
"I think it does. I think when you get voted to go play in an all-star game by your peers and other coaches, it definitely validates you as a player. I'm excited to have that opportunity," he said.
Andrews, the Birds' first-round draft choice in 2004, who turns 25 Christmas Day, was a Pro Bowl starter last season, when he had a dominant year, probably equal to any guard in the league. Andrews acknowledged that he got off to a slow start this season, partly because of a preseason ankle injury, but he has played well down the stretch. And as Andrews acknowledged, "It's been said that guys, once they make it, if they even have a decent year, then they'll go back."
"I don't like it to be that way," he said. "My year started off a little bit slow, but it's picked up toward the middle and the end. I want it to be because I'm that guy at my position; I should go, not just because I have this name."
Andrews, who battled weight issues early in his career, said he got too worried about weight gain following his ankle injury and got too light, about 325 pounds. He said he felt defensive tackles were moving him around too well, until he got back to about 340, where he says he is now.
Andrews was asked about New England coach Bill Belichick's saying he was the best guard the Pats have played.
"It's possible that some guys may have listened to that," Andrews said. Then he joked, "I can't say that I disagree with what he said."
Andrews recalled the help he got as a youngster from former teammate Jermane Mayberry, who moved from the right to the left side when Andrews arrived.
"When you have a guy that's a 9- or 10-year veteran who's asked to move over to accommodate a rookie and still help as much as he helped me, it speaks a lot about a guy like that. On and off the field, he's a great guy. William Thomas also. These guys have taken me under their wings, helped me and mentored me," Andrews said. "Nobody's perfect, but I've had some rough times here and they've helped me out a lot."
Westbrook and Andrews both said Cole was deserving, as well. Cole arrived only 3 years ago, as a little-known fifth-round rookie from Cincinnati; this has been a breakthrough year for him. Typically, Pro Bowl recognition arrives the year after a breakthrough year, assuming the player continues to play well.
"I'm very surprised. I think Trent is a heck of a player. I think another year of great play would get him right into the Pro Bowl," Westbrook said. "There are a lot of good outside rushers in the league. Trent will continue to do good and hopefully will get into the Pro Bowl next year."
Westbrook and Andrews agreed that their joy was tempered by the Eagles' being eliminated from postseason contention.
"I think we have to look at it as Green Bay looked at it last year," Westbrook said. "I think they won the last four games [finishing 8-8] and that gave them the momentum to go into this year . . . and have a good year. They did that, and hopefully for us, we need to build on these next two games and go into the offseason with a little momentum, try to get our swagger back, and build for next year." *