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After exceptional regular seasons, three Peninsula products endure playoff heartache

The three

NFL

starters from the Peninsula had landmark regular seasons. Each excelled for a division champion, two made the

Pro Bowl

and the other was part of NFL history.

But January is football's cruelest month, and all endured the frustrations of an early playoff exit.

Antoine Bethea, an

Indianapolis Colts

free safety from Denbigh High, was the first to depart. His seven solo tackles and forced fumble couldn't spare the Colts a 17-16 wild-card loss to the

New York Jets

.

Bethea is spoiled. He's played all of his five seasons for Indianapolis, a model franchise of stability and success that's made the playoffs nine consecutive years, matching the NFL record set by the

Dallas Cowboys

from 1975-83.

Moreover, the Colts won the

Super Bowl

in Bethea's rookie season and returned last year, only to stumble against the

New Orleans Saints

.

But Indy's iconic quarterback,

Peyton Manning

, turns 35 in March, and although he threw for a career-best 4,700 yards, his passer rating this season was its lowest since 2002. The Colts needed to win their final four games just to make the playoffs, and it's certainly fair to wonder if their run is about to end.

Regardless, Bethea's run in Indy is likely to continue. He had a career-high 106 tackles this season and just completed the first year of a four-year, $27-million contract.

Less than 24 hours after the Colts' defeat, the

Philadelphia Eagles

and Warwick High graduate

Michael Vick

lost their wild-card game at home to the

Green Bay Packers

21-16.

Vick's unprecedented comeback from federal inmate to Pro Bowl quarterback has been well-chronicled, and while Green Bay counterpart

Aaron Rodgers

outplayed him, Vick's playoff performance — 292 passing yards, one interception and one touchdown passing and rushing — was credible and pressed the question.

With Vick a free agent, will the Eagles retain him?

The heir apparent to

Donovan McNabb

before a concussion in the season-opener, Kevin Kolb is a viable quarterback option for Philadelphia. But considering the rapport Vick established with receivers

DeSean Jackson

and Jeremy Maclin — there's three-quarters of a formidable 4x100 relay team — do the Eagles really want to let Vick walk?

The hunch is no.

The hunch also was that after an NFL-best 14-2 regular season, the

New England Patriots

would reach, and win, their fourth Super Bowl of the

Bill Belichick

-

Tom Brady

era. But Sunday, working on two weeks' rest, the Pats dropped their playoff opener, 28-21 to the Jets.

So ended the third and finest season of

Jerod Mayo

's NFL career, leaving

Pittsburgh Steelers

coach and Denbigh alum

Mike Tomlin

— his team plays the Jets in the

AFC

title game — as the Peninsula's sole remaining playoff connection.

A middle linebacker from Kecoughtan, Mayo had by his 2010 standards a below-average outing against the Jets with six tackles. But Mayo led the NFL with 193 tackles during the regular season, the third-most in franchise history.

Not surprisingly, peers and fans voted Mayo to his first Pro Bowl, where he's a reserve for the AFC. But a higher honor was his selection to Pro Football Weekly's All-Pro team.

Named by the magazine's editors and the Professional Football Writers of America, the squad includes 11 defenders, 11 offensive players and five specialists — no second-teamers or honorable mention.

Translation: This isn't Little League, where everyone gets a trophy.

Mayo was the sole middle linebacker chosen, flanked by outside linebackers

Clay Matthews

of Green Bay and

James Harrison

from Pittsburgh.

Now consider some of the middle 'backers bypassed in favor of Mayo. Baltimore's

Ray Lewis

is a lock future Hall of Famer, and Chicago's

Brian Urlacher

isn't far behind. New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma is no slouch, either.

But Lewis and Vilma have won Super Bowl rings, and Urlacher is preparing for a conference championship game Sunday.

Guarantee Mayo would trade places.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at

. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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