San Francisco 49ers’ Aldon Smith (99) celebrates a tackle against the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco,
San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith (99) celebrates a tackle against the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)

SANTA CLARA -- A league-high nine 49ers received Pro Bowl invitations on Wednesday, matching last season's total and doing so with a quartet of first-time honorees.

"That means a lot about the team, of how many guys are playing at a high caliber," outside linebacker Aldon Smith said.

Joining Smith as a first-time Pro Bowl pick were inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, left guard Mike Iupati and strong safety Donte Whitner.

Returning to Honolulu are running back Frank Gore, free safety Dashon Goldson, defensive tackle Justin Smith, left tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Patrick Willis.

All are slated to start the Jan. 27 game except Gore, a four-time Pro Bowler, and Bowman, who said he doesn't mind sitting behind Willis in the staple formation that deploys only one inside linebacker.

San Francisco 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman (53) and San Francisco 49ers’ Justin Smith (94) tackle Detroit Lions’ Kevin Smith (30) in the second
San Francisco 49ers' NaVorro Bowman (53) and San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith (94) tackle Detroit Lions' Kevin Smith (30) in the second quarter at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012. (Nhat V. Meyer/Staff)

The nine selections are just shy of the most ever for the 49ers, who had 10 Pro Bowlers in the 1984 season.

When surveying the 49ers' honor roll and the tandems involved, it's quite evident what it means to have a good neighbor:

  • Aldon Smith and Justin Smith have dominated on the right side of the defensive line. Aldon has racked up a franchise-record 19½ sacks, though none over the past 1½ games since Justin got sidelined by an elbow injury.

    Justin Smith is not expected to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, a game in which Aldon Smith needs 3½ sacks to break Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record. Asked of his chances to get that mark, Smith replied: "I like our chances to get the win. I'm going to think about getting the win."


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  • Staley and Iupati are in their third season together on the line's left side, protecting not just the quarterback's blind side but paving the way for the league's fourth-best rushing attack.

    "He's just a great teammate to play next to, and he's helped me a lot," Iupati said. "We've worked well together, and it's a good thing."

    Iupati noted he felt bad, however, in that all five starting linemen should have made it "in my eyes." Center Jonathan Goodwin, right tackle Anthony Davis and right guard Alex Boone instead are among the 49ers' eight Pro Bowl alternates.

  • Willis and Bowman earned AP All-Pro first-team honors a year ago, so this pairing is well recognized. But Bowman was snubbed for last season's Pro Bowl, and he earned his first Pro Bowl ticket by tallying a team-high 180 tackles, including 16 in Sunday's loss at Seattle.

    "I wanted to show guys last year wasn't a fluke and I'm here to stay," Bowman said. "Me and Pat play similar and know we can do the same thing. Within the scheme, we don't have to switch positions or assignments too much. That's benefitted us as a defense."

    Willis extended his club record by becoming a Pro Bowler for the sixth time in his six seasons.

  • Goldson and Whitner are the first pair of 49ers safeties to go to the same Pro Bowl since Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald after the 1995 season. When Goldson and Whitner initially joined forces for the 2011 training camp, "we made up our mind to be two of the best safeties in the league, and we definitely wanted to be the No. 1 tandem," Whitner said.

    Goldson made his second straight Pro Bowl while compiling a team-high three interceptions and way more crushing hits. Whitner ranks fourth on the team with 112 tackles.

    Also included among the 49ers' eight Pro Bowl alternates are tight end Vernon Davis, punter Andy Lee, cornerback Carlos Rogers, linebacker Ahmad Brooks and special-teams mainstay C.J. Spillman.

    Lee is a three-time Pro Bowler and went last season as part of the 49ers' nine-man contingent that also included Rogers, kicker David Akers and long snapper Brian Jennings.

    Not making alternate status was 49ers leading receiver Michael Crabtree, whose 77 catches are eighth-most among NFC wide receivers.

    The Pro Bowl will be held the weekend before Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. The 49ers (10-4-1) have secured at least a wild-card berth, and a win Sunday can clinch them the NFC West and possibly the NFC's No. 2 seed.

    For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.

    Sunday's game

    Arizona (5-10) at 49ers (10-4-1), 1:25 p.m. FOX

    INSIDE

    Gore adjusting to changes in offense under Kaepernick.

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