The Carolina Panthers’ list of Pro Bowl players wasn’t a list at all.
Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was the only Panther selected – a testament to Kuechly’s strong bounce-back from a concussion-shortened 2016 and perhaps a sign the whole is better than the individual parts this season.
Or it could be a couple of players on a 10-4 team were snubbed.
Head coach Ron Rivera pointed to his team’s success running the ball and stopping the run and its third-down offensive and defensive efficiency (top 10 in the league in both categories) as evidence the Panthers should have more players headed to Orlando.
“When you do the things that you have, you’d like to think there’d be a few more guys. But unfortunately there wasn’t,” Rivera said Wednesday. “I’m just proud of who we are as a team. I think it does speak a little bit about who we are to be 10-4 with only one Pro Bowl player, it tells you we play a lot of good team football.”
Two of the Panthers’ perennial Pro Bowlers – tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil – both were hurt for most of the season.
Defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mario Addison, tied for the team lead with 10 sacks, might have canceled each other out.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano leads the league in field goal accuracy at 96.2 percent (25 of 26), with his only miss from 55 yards. But the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein (38 of 40 on field goals) got the nod in the NFC. However, the Rams placed Zuerlein on injured reserve Wednesday with a back injury. That means Gano, a first alternate, likely will be going to his first Pro Bowl.
A source told the Observer that linebacker Thomas Davis and right guard Trai Turner are the other first alternates for the Panthers. Punter Michael Palardy is a second alternate, and Peppers and defensive tackle Kawann Short are third alternates.
“Luke works his butt off every single day. He definitely deserves this. And I think obviously you can say more guys deserve it and should get the nod,” safety Kurt Coleman said. “But we’ve got a lot more things to play for than just the Pro Bowl.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, a three-time Pro Bowler, said he has his sights set on a different postseason destination.
“The only bowl I’m searching for – I think we all know the answer to that,” Newton said. “I don’t really get caught up into accolades. I think we all win if the Carolina Panthers are in the Super Bowl – and winning it.”