Through 15 games and the more hopeful points of a disappointing season, it was the defense that carried the Chiefs in 2011. Now, two defensive leaders will carry the Chiefs' name to the Pro Bowl.
Linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson were chosen as reserves on the AFC's Pro Bowl team, which will gather in Honolulu on Jan. 29.
Hali, who is second in the AFC with 12 sacks, was a Pro Bowler after the 2010 season but didn't participate in the game for personal reasons. This is Johnson's first appearance. Neither player was chosen as a starter, though. Hali will back up Baltimore's Terrell Suggs, the conference's sacks leader with 13, and Denver rookie Von Miller. Johnson will be Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' backup.
Johnson's inclusion represents a milestone for a player who was benched two seasons ago because of a lack of passion and nagging injuries. He responded by improving in all areas, becoming perhaps the Chiefs' best run-stopper and a solid player in coverage and in pass-rush situations. Johnson is 10th in the league this season with 126 tackles.
Hali could still finish the season as the AFC's leader in sacks, if he's able to get to Denver's Tim Tebow several times on Sunday — and hope Suggs has a slow performance against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Chiefs had six selections last season, including four offensive players. Two of those, running back Jamaal Charles and quarterback Matt Cassel, suffered season-ending injuries in 2011.
Tom Brady is one of eight Patriots and Patrick Willis one of eight 49ers to make the Pro Bowl, the most on each roster.
One of those Patriots all-stars is guard Brian Waters, whom the Chiefs released during training camp after 11 seasons in Kansas City. This is Waters' sixth Pro Bowl appearance.
Defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay (14-1), led by starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Baltimore (11-4), led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, have seven apiece.
Brady and Waters are two of seven starters from New England (12-3). The others are receiver Wes Welker, tight end Rob Gronkowski, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive end Andre Carter, and guard Logan Mankins. Special teamer Matthew Slater is the other New England representative.
Linebacker Willis, DE Justin Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers and tackle Joe Staley will start for the NFC from the 49ers (12-3), who had only Smith and Willis make the Pro Bowl last year.
Green Bay's Rodgers is the starting NFC quarterback, backed by record-setting Drew Brees of New Orleans (12-3).
"It does have special significance, because when I was voted in in 2009, I was the third guy and I was very thankful to be voted in, and got the opportunity to start because of some injuries and guys not going," Rodgers said. "It's great to be voted in as a starter, that means a lot to me and it's a special honor."
Four of the NFL's biggest headline makers this season did not get voted in by players, coaches and fans: Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, Steelers LB James Harrison, Panthers rookie QB Cam Newton, and Denver QB Tim Tebow.
Suh might have lost support after drawing a two-game suspension for stomping an opponent, and Harrison's one-game suspension for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Browns QB Colt McCoy might have reduced his support.
Fifteen first-time Pro Bowlers made the NFC squad, and 13 AFC players were first-time selections.