The three players who perhaps have best defined the Tennessee Titans’ season in 2007 were selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, part of a defensive line that at times has dominated opponents this season, were both selected as AFC starters for the Feb. 10, 2008 game.
As well, Rob Bironas, whose clutch kicks have helped bail out an offense that has sputtered for much of 2007, was named the AFC’s kicker on Tuesday.
That trio’s selection marked the first time the Titans have had that many players elected to play in the game.
Haynesworth, who has a career-high six sacks and has anchored the defensive line for Tennessee this season despite a hamstring injury that cost him three games, is headed to Honolulu for the first time. He has 66 total tackles this season while playing in 11 games.
“It is very special. It doesn’t matter if it is the sixth year, 10th year or second year, being invited to the Pro Bowl is a great honor and privilege, and I’m just humbled that I have the chance to go,” Haynesworth said.
Vanden Bosch is Hawaii-bound for the second time in his career, but for the first time as a starter. The seven-year veteran defensive end made the game as an alternate and injury replacement in 2005. Vanden Bosch has nine sacks for the Titans this season and 21 quarterback pressures to go along with 101 total tackles.
The duo has helped a resurgent Titans defense that currently ranks fourth overall in the NFL after being last just a season ago.
Speaking of one-year turnarounds, few are more amazing than the reversal done by Haynesworth, the Titans’ first-round pick in 2002, who constantly battled problems with health and maturity during his professional career prior to this season.
Haynesworth hit rock bottom in October 2006 when he stomped on the helmet-less head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode in a game at LP Field. That act netted Haynesworth a five-game suspension from Commissioner Roger Goodell as well as a fine and loss of around $190,000 in prorated signing bonus money.
After the incident, Haynesworth expressed remorse, tried to make amends through charity work and vowed to be a changed man in his demeanor.
The changes have been evident in his performance as well this season.
“I think it was just put in front of everyone's face this year,” Haynesworth said. “The season I wanted to have this year was one to rewrite the history books on me, so that people would remember me as a good football player, not for what happened last year, having the longest suspension.”
Ironically, Gurode was chosen as a starting center for the NFC team this season.
As for Bironas, the Titans’ red-zone problems have been his ticket to his first Pro Bowl appearance. He has scored 119 points this season by making 31 of 35 field goal attempts and all 26 of his extra point tries.
Bironas also set an NFL record on Oct. 21 at Houston, when he made eight field goals in the Titans’ 38-36 victory over the Texans. Bironas’ eighth kick of the game was a game-winner as time expired. The ball for that kick was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“I think there was no question that that game kind put me on the map,” Bironas said. “An NFL record was broken and it was talked about for a while. And from that point, I was making a lot of kicks.”
Bironas also plans to include his holder Craig Hentrich, himself a former Pro Bowl punter, and long snapper Ken Amato, in his trip to Hawaii.
“I’m taking Craig and Ken with me. Those guys have been great in helping me and are a big part of my success,” Bironas said.
In recent seasons, the Titans have been ignored in the Pro Bowl selections. The past three seasons, Tennessee had no players voted into the game through the selection process, but wound up having one representative each season after players nominated for the all-star game declined the invitation.
Last year, quarterback Vince Young, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, was selected as an alternate and made the trip to the game.
Also, in a show of tribute, slain Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor, who died Nov. 27 as a result of gunshot wounds as the victim of a home invasion, was voted to the NFC team as its starting free safety. Taylor had five interceptions this season.