By Mary Paoletti
FOXBORO -- When Vince Wilfork met the media on Wednesday, he did so as a member of the 2011 Pro Bowl team. He immediately addressed the significance of his third career selection.
"To be nominated as one of the best in the National Football League, I'm very honored,'' Wilfork said. "I'm excited about it. I'm excited about my teammates who made it."
Five of Wilfork's teammates were also named to the roster. But the nose tackle didn't feel like the commendations for hard work should be limited to those invited to Hawaii.
"I'm proud of everyone,'' he said. "There're a bunch of guys in here that easily could have been a Pro Bowler, but there're only so many you can pick. But I'm definitely proud of the guys who made it: Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty and Brandon Meriweather, and Tom Brady and Logan Mankins on offense.
"I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're very proud of this team, not just those individuals who have been named Pro Bowlers. As a team, we're very, very honored to be in the position to do some good things."
Since the selections were just made Tuesday night, Wilfork's opening comments were predictable. His emphasis, however, was elsewhere.
The Patriots' focus-only-on-what's-in-front-of-you mantra was never more evident than in Wilfork's comments Wednesday. New England has a matchup with Miami to get through this week and, in Wilfork's mind, the importance of an AFC East showdown -- even one as meaningless as Sunday's between the Patriots, who've clinched everything there is to clinch heading into the playoffs, and the Dolphins, who've been eliminated from the postseason picture -- supersedes all awards and playoff talk.
"We take it one game at a time," Wilfork said. "From personal goals to individual to team goals, I think that's the best way to do it. Our goal is to just keep getting better as a team and put together a good football effort against the Miami Dolphins this week and leave this one with a 'W.'
"I know they want to end their season with a win and we want to win, so it doesnt get any better than this. We don't look at any records. It's all about one team and the Miami Dolphins playing the New England Patriots. Thats what it is going to boil down to."
Fans and analysts alike are wondering how much starters, like Wilfork, will play on Sunday. The Patriots already know they're going to the playoffs. Is this going to be a garbage game?
The defensive captain scoffed at the idea.
"I want to play football,'' he stated. "Especially this time of year, I think the more games you play . . . the more consistent you can be. That's where I stand. I want to play every game I can, crunch time. I think anybody who loves the game would want to be playing right now and I'm one of those guys. There are a bunch of guys in this locker room that want to play and want to win. "
He was unwavering in his stance. What about 2009's season-ending injury to Wes Welker in New England's Week 17 game? It's ancient history and Wilfork isn't even subscribing to the text.
"I don't think twice about going in the last game of preseason or the middle-of-the-season game. I couldn't care less when I play. When I play, I play. If it's meant for somebody to get injured, you get injured. You could easily get injured off the field. So that's something I don't worry about."
So for now, the Pro Bowl and the playoffs are merely distractions from the game plan. Is Vince Wilfork honored and excited? Absolutely. But the only thing on the big man's mind this week is beating Miami.