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Welker, Gronkowski on All-Pro first team

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / January 7, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH - A record-setting season by Rob Gronkowski and consistent excellence from Wes Welker put the pair of Patriots in the same spot - on the Associated Press All-Pro first team.

Gronkowski and Welker were the only Patriots selected to the 28-member first team, which was announced yesterday and is voted on nationally by 50 media members who cover the NFL. Guard Logan Mankins and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork made the second team.

Unlike Pro Bowl selections, which recognize starters and backups by conference, the All-Pro team encompasses the entire league.

It’s Welker’s second time on the first team; he also was selected in 2009, and was a second-team choice in 2007 and 2008. It’s Gronkowski’s first time on the team.

Welker led the league with 122 receptions and was second in yardage (1,569), behind the other first-team receiver, Calvin Johnson of the Lions. In five seasons with the Patriots, Welker has eclipsed 100 catches and 1,000 yards four times.

Gronkowski, in his second year, set NFL records for receiving yards (1,327) and receiving touchdowns (17) by a tight end.

Prior to the All-Pro announcements, Gronkowski was asked about the records he’s set this season, which also has seen him named to his first Pro Bowl.

“I don’t care about that anymore. It’s a one-game season now. All that kind of stuff, whatever we did, our record, our win-loss column, that doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all in the past,’’ Gronkowski said. “It’s a one-game season, and that’s all we’re worried about.’’

The 49ers put a league-high five players on the first team.

Interested observers

Except for their bye week, the Patriots don’t have much chance during the season of enjoying televised football the way most fans do. That changes this weekend, sort of.

As the AFC’s No. 1 seed, the Patriots have a first-round playoff bye, and will sit back and let this weekend’s two wild-card games decide which team will be visiting next Saturday night. If No. 6 Cincinnati beats No. 3 Houston today, the Patriots will meet the Bengals; if Houston wins, they’ll welcome the winner of tomorrow’s game between No. 4 Denver and No. 5 Pittsburgh.

Two playoff games, with plenty at stake for the Patriots. After being given today and tomorrow off, most players said they’ll be tuning in.

“I’m a football fan, so I’m definitely watching football as a fan,’’ Gronkowski said. “But at the same time you’re watching your opponents, watching the games to see who you’re going to be playing, seeing if you can pick up anything.’’

Some, while not admitting to rooting interests, have friends and former teammates playing this weekend.

“My roommates in college, one [plays] for Denver, one for Pittsburgh, Ramon Foster [Steelers guard] and Robert Ayers [Broncos defensive end],’’ said linebacker Jerod Mayo, who played with both at the University of Tennessee. “I wouldn’t say I’m rooting for them, but I’ll be watching.

“I’m definitely going to watch, probably as a fan, a little bit as a scout.’’

A Bengals win today would allow the Patriots to begin preparations immediately, which could be beneficial since the Patriots play next Saturday instead of Sunday. Coach Bill Belichick said the coaches’ copy of the game film - which shows all 22 players on the field for every game - arrives digitally pretty quickly; Patriots coaches could be scrutinizing the Bengals-Texans game film first thing tomorrow morning.

“I think our plans depend on the results of the game. Obviously, if Cincinnati wins, then we know what we’re doing,’’ Belichick said. “If it goes to Sunday’s game, then it goes to Sunday’s game.

“We have no control over those things, so I don’t sit there and worry about it. Whatever happens, we’ll take the hand that we’re dealt and do the best we can playing with it.’’

Until the opponent is determined, Patriots players tuning in will sit back and enjoy.

“I’m definitely going to watch the games,’’ Julian Edelman said. “It’s always hard to say you can be a football fan because when you’re watching you’re breaking [the game] down, you’re watching your position group, or you’re watching the opposite position group. So you’ll be doing that, or at least I’ll be doing that, and just relax, probably eat some pizza.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

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