The Carolina Panthers had a team-record 10 players voted to the Pro Bowl, including the first selection for 11th-year linebacker Thomas Davis.
But if things go as the Panthers hope, they’ll have 10 no-shows for the NFL’s annual all-star game in Hawaii.
Rather than play in the Pro Bowl on Jan. 31, the Panthers (14-0) hope they’re on a plane that day headed for northern California, site of Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.
“That’ll be just fine with me,” Davis said recently. “I won’t have any issues with that.”
Riding the wave of an undefeated season, the Panthers had more Pro Bowl selections than any other team in the results announced Tuesday night. New England, Seattle and Arizona – the team chasing Carolina for home-field advantage in the NFC – each had seven players receive Pro Bowl honors.
The Panthers had seven players selected in 1996 and 2013, although eight players went to Hawaii after the ’96 season when Kerry Collins was chosen as an alternate.
Quarterback Cam Newton, the leading candidate for league MVP, earned the third Pro Bowl selection of his Pro Bowl year. Newton was the second-leading vote-getter in the fan balloting behind Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Coaches and players, who make up the final two-thirds of the selection process, voted last week.
Newton was joined by five offensive teammates: running back Jonathan Stewart, tight end Greg Olsen, fullback Mike Tolbert, center Ryan Kalil and guard Trai Turner.
It was the fifth Pro Bowl selection for Kalil, tying him with Wesley Walls, Michael Bates, Julius Peppers and Steve Smith for the most in team history.
But like Davis, Kalil would rather be in Santa Clara, Calif., than Honolulu this year.
“No,” Kalil said when asked about Hawaii. “I want to go to the Super Bowl.”
It was the second honor in as many years for Olsen, who topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark last week for the second consecutive season.
“Obviously it’s always a good honor,” Olsen said. “But we have bigger things on our mind.”
Stewart received his first Pro Bowl nod in his first season as the Panthers’ featured back after the team cut ties with franchise rushing leader DeAngelo Williams in the offseason. Stewart, who is recovering from a sprained foot, has a career-high 242 rushes for 989 yards.
Stewart and Turner, the second-year guard from LSU, are among five Panthers who were selected for the first time.
The Panthers had four defensive players selected: Davis, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and a pair of first-timers in cornerback Josh Norman and defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Davis is the only player in the league with at least five sacks (5.5) and three or more interceptions. Davis, the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2014, needs 10 tackles to surpass Mike Minter as the Panthers’ all-time leading tackler.
It’s the third consecutive year Kuechly has been named to the Pro Bowl. Kuechly leads the Panthers with 101 tackles despite missing three games after sustaining a concussion in a Week 1 win at Jacksonville.
Norman has developed into one of the league’s top cover corners in his fourth season and has four interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns.
Short’s nine sacks are the most by a Panthers defensive tackle and rank third among NFL defensive tackles this season, trailing St. Louis’ Aaron Donald (11) and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins (10).
“To have 10 guys selected says a lot about our team,” Davis said. “It says a lot about our fans and how highly they thought of us this season, and I think it says a lot about the way our season has gone. I’m excited and thankful to be part of the 10.”