He has the numbers. Boy, does he ever have the numbers.
That qualifies as the most crying omission from the AFC and NFC all-star squads, but it wasn't the only one. Many other players performed well enough to be Pro Bowl picks but found themselves short of votes.
Philip Rivers, San Diego: He had the stats but not enough wins. The Chargers were a popular pick to contend for the Super Bowl, and the fact that they're 6-8 and likely will miss the playoffs was clearly held against Rivers. He also probably missed out because Brett Favre, one of the three quarterbacks chosen, became a sentimental favorite after being traded from the Packers to the Jets, who are in contention for the AFC East title (even if Favre hasn't had as much to do with that as his running game and defense).
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh: He definitely doesn't have the numbers (2,862 passing yards, 15 TDs), but he certainly has the wins. Granted, the Steelers are driven by their dominant defense, but Big Ben has come up big on multiple occasions, including the 92-yard touchdown drive he engineered late in a division-clinching victory at Baltimore last week. He also has done more than his share to help the Steelers overcome injuries at running back and on the offensive line. Some people in league circles say he should be a candidate for NFL MVP, although that seems like a reach.
Steve Slaton, Houston: His numbers (1,124 rushing yards, eight TDs) easily are worthy of the Pro Bowl, but the fact that he's a rookie playing for the Texans, who put themselves out of playoff contention before their current four-game winning streak, probably kept him off of the radar. Another factor that likely worked against him: Ronnie Brown, one of the three selections at running back, became somewhat of a novelty because of his key role in the Dolphins' "Wildcat" formation and his comeback from a major knee injury.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego: He had made the Pro Bowl five consecutive times, so he seemed to be a lock. However, like Rivers, Tomlinson was hurt by the Chargers' struggles. He also might have been damaged by the perception that he has lost a step. His stats (924 rushing yards, eight TDs; 406 receiving yards, one TD) aren't spectacular, but they're far from awful.
Tony Richardson, New York Jets: Multiple coaches and personnel types around the league say Richardson's blocking has been every bit as crucial to Thomas Jones' standout rushing season as the Jets' offensive line. Put another way, without Richardson, Jones probably wouldn't have been voted to the Pro Bowl.
Randy Moss, New England: Maybe his stats (66 catches for 908 yards) didn't stack up quite as well against the four receivers chosen, but one can argue that Moss is every bit as good as the rest, if not better. Without Moss, there's no way the Patriots could have survived Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury as well as they have. The fact that teammate Wes Welker has caught significantly more passes (102, but only two touchdowns to Moss' league-leading 10) and that New England isn't the dominant offensive team of a year ago likely discouraged voters from putting two Patriots at the position.
Hines Ward, Pittsburgh: He has similar stats (68 catches for 864 yards, six TDs) to Moss and has been vital to helping Roethlisberger make many clutch plays. One potential strike against Ward is his bone-crunching blocks, which, in the eyes of some opponents, make him a cheap-shot artist. By Ward's own admission, he's "the most hated man in Baltimore." It's a good guess that he didn't show up any of the Ravens' Pro Bowl ballots.
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis: His 63 receptions rank second in the league among tight ends, and he has played a key role in the Colts working their way back into playoff contention after a poor start. Peyton Manning certainly will tell you how important Clark was to his recovery from his struggles following his knee surgery last summer. Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez (84 catches for 941 yards, eight TDs) and San Diego's Antonio Gates (53 catches for 612 yards, six TDs) are strong picks, but Clark's omission was the second-biggest surprise after that of Rivers.
Ryan Clady, Denver: He seemed like a slam dunk, especially given his key role in the tremendous pass protection that has allowed Jay Cutler to throw 24 touchdown passes. In fact, some league observers have tried to make the case for Clady to be Offensive Rookie of the Year. The fact that he's a rookie shouldn't have worked against him, considering that Joe Thomas, one of this year's picks, was a rookie last season.
Vince Wilfork, New England: He's every bit as a disruptive force in the middle as the players chosen at this position. But there was only room for three.
LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh:James Harrison, his fellow Steelers outside linebacker, made the team, but Woodley was every bit as deserving. The two feed off each other and have combined this season to become the most prolific pass-rush duo in Pittsburgh history with 26.5 sacks (15 by Harrison, 11.5 by Woodley).
Madison Hedgecock, New York Giants: The Giants' effectiveness in running the ball hasn't all been because of their terrific offensive line. Hedgecock's blocking also has played a key role. However, voters often have a hard time figuring out who the most deserving fullback is because it's a case of sifting through a lot of dirty work.
John Abraham, Atlanta: The league's best defensive ends clearly reside in the NFC. Abraham is definitely one of them, but someone had to miss the cut, even if he does have 15.5 sacks, third-most in the NFL.
Darnell Dockett, Arizona: Two players from the same team (Minnesota's Kevin and Pat Williams) were easy picks here. Nevertheless, Dockett was worthy of consideration with 40 tackles and four sacks.
Tommie Harris, Chicago: Again, it's hard to land that third spot after the Williamses, but Harris was a legitimate candidate to do so with 28 tackles and five sacks.
Karlos Dansby, Arizona: It's hard to argue against any of the three picks (Dallas' DeMarcus Ware, Chicago's Lance Briggs, and Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks). However, Dansby seemed to have a strong shot with 102 tackles, seventh-most in the NFC, and he's a key cog in the pressure scheme of Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
Jermaine Phillips, Tampa Bay: He was widely seen as having a Pro Bowl season (59 tackles, three interceptions), but the competition for the one opening at this position was tough.