TAMPA, Fla. — The Pro Bowl is the one game that no NFL player wants to actually play. It means your team isn't in the Super Bowl, but getting recognition from fans, coaches, and fellow players is never a bad thing.
This season, five Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned spots on the NFC roster. Quarterback Tom Brady made it for a record 15th time, and linebacker Shaq Barrett made his second Pro Bowl squad. They'll be joined by three first-timers: Offensive lineman Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpet, and Tristan Wirfs.
"It’s amazing," said Jensen. "Nine years in the league, coming from a Division II school and getting that recognition – it’s huge and humbling. It’s an honor."
Left guard Ali Marpet is one of the most underrated players at his position in the league. He said it was impossible not to get emotional when he got the call saying he was a Pro Bowler.
"I saw my dad in person and I found out a couple of minutes before the eight o’clock deal, so I saw him in person," Marpet said. "It was cool to share that with him. Cool to share it with my girlfriend. Cool to share it with some other people. It was really nice."
The Bucs offensive line has allowed 20 sacks this season — the fewest of any full-time starting quarterback. Nobody appreciates that stat more than Tom Brady. The 44-year-old future Hall of Famer leads the league in passing yards (4,348), passing touchdowns (36), completions (404), and attempts (602).
"They’ve been the strength of our team all season. I love playing with those guys," Brady said after Thursday's practice. "They take a lot of pride in what they do. Everyone loves that they got the recognition because they deserve it. At the same time, they want to go earn it and make sure they’re playing their football this time of year."
The Bucs lost receiver Chris Godwin for the rest of the season with a torn ACL against New Orleans. Running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring) will miss the final three games of the regular season, and receiver Mike Evans (hamstring) will miss at least Sunday's game against Carolina. With all the injuries, the offensive line wants to carry even more of the load down the stretch of the regular season.
"It’s going to come down to us. We gotta take control and be the leaders out there," said Wirfs. "Everything starts with us upfront. As you said, we just want to put it on our shoulders and see what we can do."
Tampa Bay can claim the NFC South title for the first time in 14 years with a win or tie at Carolina on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.
The Bucs also get the division crown if New Orleans loses or ties its game with Miami.