BEREA, Ohio - Wide receiver Braylon Edwards and returner Josh Cribbs were named to the Pro Bowl yesterday, more proof of the Cleveland Browns' return to prominence.
They are the first Browns players to receive the honor in six seasons - only linebacker Jamir Miller has played in
Honolulu since the team's rebirth in 1999.
The Cincinnati Bengals were represented by seventh-year wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who leads the NFL in receptions. Should Houshmandzadeh keep the lead, he would become the first Bengals player in the team's 40-year history to have the most receptions in the league.
The Browns (9-5) are on the cusp of earning their first playoff spot since 2002 mostly because of their play on offense and special teams.
"I've dreamed about this my whole life, prayed for it," Edwards said. "I'm just happy we could do this. I'm really going as a representative of what we've done this year."
Edwards has become the playmaker that the Browns envisioned when they selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 draft.
His 1,170 yards receiving ranks fifth in the NFL and his 13 touchdowns tied the franchise record set by Gary Collins in 1963. Edwards has 69 receptions and his 17 yards per catch average is fourth among players with at least 50 catches.
Edwards said he's looking forward to the Feb. 10 Pro Bowl but has more pressing matters to focus on.
"I'm worried about scouting Cincinnati," Edwards said of the Browns' upcoming opponent. A victory Sunday would clinch a playoff spot for Cleveland.
Cribbs leads the league in kickoff return average (30.9 yards) and has taken two kicks back for touchdowns. Cribbs, a former Kent State quarterback who signed with the Browns in 2005 as an undrafted free agent, also is tied for the team lead in special teams tackles (18).
While Edwards was expected to make a Pro Bowl roster someday, Cribbs defied the odds to get there.
"I have a story to tell. Not being drafted, switching positions, having to learn something I've never done before and then doing it at such a high level in the NFL - it just means a lot to me," said Cribbs, seated with wife, Maria, and daughter, Kimorah, 4.
And he's not the only Pro Bowl starter from Kent State - San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison also were named to the AFC team. Gates and Harrison also started out as rookie free agents.
"You don't have to go to a big school to become something special in the NFL," Cribbs said.
Houshmandzadeh was the lone representative for the Bengals (5-9). His 101st reception Saturday night broke Carl Pickens' single-season Bengals team record of 100 set in 1996.
"I was excited, kind of sort of, but I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be," said Houshmandzadeh. "If - and this is the truth - honestly if they said 'T.J. you cant go to the Pro Bowl but if you guys win these next two games you can go to the playoffs,' I'd take that."
Houshmandzadeh and Edwards made the AFC team behind starters Randy Moss and Reggie Wayne.
Four Browns players were named as first alternates: quarterback Derek Anderson, guard Eric Steinbach, tackle Joe Thomas and tight end Kellen Winslow. Fullback Lawrence Vickers was named second alternate and kicker Phil Dawson was named third alternate.
"Winning brings attention and it's great to be on the plus side of the ledger so far this season," Browns general manager Phil Savage said in a statement.
Receiver Chad Johnson was one of four Bengals players to be named as alternates. Johnson and kicker Shayne Graham are first alternates, while left tackle Levi Jones and quarterback Carson Palmer were named third alternates.