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Pro Bowl not goal, but sure feels good

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The summons was enough to make even a 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end a little nervous, not to mention a 6-foot, 200-pound special teamer.

Coach Bill Belichick wants to see you.

The thoughts raced through their minds. What did I do wrong? Am I in trouble?

"I asked real quick if this [meeting] was good or bad," admitted tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"I was a little worried at first," said special teams captain Matthew Slater.

But the news for Gronkowski and Slater was all good. They were selected for the Pro Bowl. Belichick gave them the word Tuesday.

"It was cool to hear it from him," said Gronkowski, in his second year in the NFL.

"It was the first time I got called in there, but it was for a good thing. He had a little smirk on his face [when delivering the news]," said Slater, a versatile four-year veteran who is also a receiver and has been plugged in at safety in the Pats' injury-wracked defensive backfield this year.

Gronkowski and Slater were among eight Patriots named to the Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 29 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, one week before the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.

Quarterback Tom Brady, defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Andre Carter, receiver Wes Welker and guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters were also selected to the Pro Bowl in voting by fans, coaches and players. Each of those groups accounts for one-third of the vote.

Brady, a seven-time pick, will be making his second start. Waters was chosen for the sixth time. Mankins is a four-time selection, as is Welker.

Wilfork is now a three-time Pro Bowler, while Carter, who suffered a season-ending quad injury on Dec. 18, was honored for the first time. It is also a first for Gronkowski and Slater.

"We're always happy for the guys who made it," said Belichick on Wednesday. "There always are other [Patriots] who are worthy of it, but that's the way it goes. [We have] no control over that."

Although Gronkowski, Slater and Waters said Wednesday that the focus remains on Sunday's opponent, the Buffalo Bills, in the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium, they clearly were appreciative of the status.

"You think about it. It's kind of a personal goal, but it's success due to the whole team, the coaches, the players, Tom [Brady] and the other receivers," said Gronkowski, who has 15 touchdown catches, setting an NFL record for tight ends and leaving him tied with the Lions' Calvin Johnson for tops in the league this season.

"It's an honor to be in it," added Gronkowski. "There are so many great tight ends out there. It's due to hard work and dedication of the coaches and everyone here. But we have a game Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. We have to take care of business. We want to build momentum going into the playoffs. That's all we're worried about right now."

Slater expressed similar thoughts about the Bills game, but he did reflect on his selection, which had double meaning for him. His father, tackle Jackie Slater, was a seven-time Pro Bowler. Son shared the news with father last night.

"He was excited. You would have thought he made the Pro Bowl," said the younger Slater with a smile. "He taught me to be a professional, to be prepared. I owe him a lot."

Slater also gave thanks elsewhere.

"You know I'm a man of faith," said Slater. "I thank the lord, my savior, Jesus Christ. He helped me through adversity early in my career. I had trust that he had a plan. That's what helped me through the adversity."

What has also helped Slater is a strong work ethic. His career as a wide receiver, which is the position he played at UCLA, didn't take off with the Pats as he or the team might have hoped, but he has made a mark in channeling his effort and dedication to special teams.

"Everyone here in this room is a competitor, said Slater. "Everyone in this room has been the best at what he has done somewhere along the line. I try to give 100 percent at whatever I am doing. Special teams is the dirty work, but it's an important part of the game and I want to be the best at it that I can be. You're not looking for a pat on the back.

"It's an honor [to be selected to the Pro Bowl]. I'm really humbled by that honor. There are a lot of great players on special teams. I have a lot of guys to thank for that, my teammates and coaches."

Waters, in his 12th NFL season, has been honored a number of times in the past. but said it hasn't become old hat. While appreciative of the fans' voting for him, he said it's even more meaningful for him that the coaches and players selected him.

"It never gets old," said Waters, who joined the Patriots this season in time for the first game after a superlative career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"You set particular goals for yourself, you want to play at a high level, you have a competitive nature, you want to be considered the best," said Waters. "You're talking people (the voters) who pay close attention to the game and are critical. The fact they would take the time and vote for me says a lot. It's an honor."

Waters, Gronkowski and Slater were the only Pats Pro Bowlers in the locker room available to talk with the media. Waters spoke a bit on behalf of Carter, an 11-year veteran.

"Andre is one of the more deserving guys," said Waters of Carter, who was leading the team with 10 sacks when he was injured. "There might have been some times when he could have made it [in past years], but I don't think anyone worked harder than Andre. I'm sure this is something he will cherish."

Of course, the Patriots who were selected are hoping they won't be able to play in the Pro Bowl. They would much prefer to be preparing that week for a Super Bowl appearance the next Sunday.

"That's not what the end goal is for us," said Slater. "We don't care about Pro Bowls. That's something to look back on when the season is over. We're still focused on winning football games."

Brady echoed Slater's thoughts.

"It's a very nice thing for your peers and coaches to name you to the team," said Brady in his weekly news conference. "We have a lot of guys joining us. That's always pretty cool. [But] we have other plans, hopefully, and we have a big game this week. We could really put ourselves in a good position (home-field throughout the AFC playoffs) if we win it. This is a team we lost to before and we have to go out and play well."

Steven Krasner is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.