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Super Bowl LI: Patriots win thriller over Falcons in overtime

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The New England Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28, at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, making Tom Brady the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl games.

Super Bowl LI ads gave fans politics with their pigskin

Viewers who believed that Super Bowl LI would be an escape from the nonstop news onslaught that has occurred in the first two weeks of the Trump presidency were mistaken. The only thing the country agreed on Sunday night is its love for Baby Ditka in the NFL’s spot.

Subtle and not so-subtle messages about the immigration policies of President Trump slipped in, injecting some solemnity and perhaps anxiety into Super Bowl parties across the country. Viewers may have been reaching for the tissue as often as the guacamole during the commercial breaks. Puppies, funny anthropomorphic critters and laughter were in short supply. We were reminded that Spuds MacKenzie is dead.

Even the president’s carefully crafted coif took a knock in a spot for It’s A 10 hair care products, which opened with the line, “We’re in for four years of awful hair.”

Inclusiveness and equal pay for women got airtime – causing some polarization on Twitter. Expedia and Turkish Airlines promoted travel as a means for better understanding of other cultures (“Bridging worlds, finding delight in our differences,” as Morgan Freeman put it from his business class seat.)

“Love the Super Bowl commercials celebrating our diversity,” Katie Couric tweeted.

Others were less amused or impressed. Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska quoted his daughter in a tweet: “I thought you said Super Bowl commercials are really funny.”

As the night wore on and the political themes became more apparent, author Gary Shteyngart tweeted: “Super Bowl commercials super nostalgic for the America of eighteen days ago.”

Here are some highlights and lowlights:

Avocados From Mexico - The first Trump touchstone of the night with one-time “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Jon Lovitz, who makes a subliminal appearance during a totally apolitical ad that showed a meeting of a secret society.

Kia Niro - While watching Melissa McCarthy careen around trees, ice caps and rhinos, you had to wonder what kind of Super Bowl Sunday White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was having after her devastating impersonation of him on last night’s “Saturday Night Live.”

84 Lumber - An ad featuring a Mexican woman and her daughter on a border-crossing journey had to be altered before Fox would accept it for the Super Bowl telecast. The original ending – which depicted a wall – was a little too on-the-nose amid the current controversy over the proposed immigration policies under President Trump. (“Contains Content Deemed Too Controversial for TV” is how it was described on the company’s website where the original conclusion was presented.) It showed the mother and daughter getting through a door in a foreboding border wall.

Airbnb – The quiet spot for the home-stay network showed a face morphing into various ages and ethnicity with the line “We accept,” which was interpreted as a response to Trump’s executive order aimed at banning the entry of immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Audi - A dad pondering equal pay for women as his daughter competes in a boxcar derby became a political flashpoint on Twitter. “Now the @Audi ad made me choked up. WTF Superbowl ads?” tweeted “Big Bang Theory” producer Bill Prady. Would the company have changed the ad if Hillary Clinton won the election?

H&R Block – The tax preparer made its first Super Bowl appearance in eight years to promote its partnership with IBM’s Watson. Two questions: Does anybody really wear a bow tie in an H&R Block office like the guy who used to be in their ads? Does Jon Hamm’s agent ever say no?

Buick – A funny Cam Newton showing up in a Pop Warner game, followed by supermodel Miranda Kerr, almost made us not think about how parents are not letting their kids play football. Dave Chappelle pointed out in a tweet: “Cam Newton finally threw his first TD pass during the #SuperBowl.”

Honda CR-V – Those were all real throwback pictures in a talking yearbook spot that featured Tina Fey, Robert Redford, Amy Adams, Magic Johnson, Steve Carell, Missy Elliott, Stan Lee, Viola Davis and Jimmy Kimmel in a bright blue jacket. It was one of the few uplifting escapes from what became a polarizing night for some fans.

Tide – Much of America was relieved that it was a stain on Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw’s shirt and not a reoccurrence of his shingles.

Michelob Ultra Light – The “Cheers” theme while hard bodies are sweating and working out – really? Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin would not be caught dead near a health club.

Ford - Baby boomers who remember Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free” as a 1960s civil rights anthem had to feel old hearing this song to sell Ford cars without a hint of political awareness.

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Brady leads Patriots to epic Super Bowl comeback victory

Tom Brady orchestrated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history Sunday, winning his fifth ring and fourth most valuable player award by digging the New England Patriots out of an unfathomable hole.

The Patriots scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to win the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, 34-28.

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President Trump congratulates Patriots on win

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Lady Gaga misses her Super Bowl moment to say something profound

Maybe Tony Bennett should’ve shown up after all.

When rumors began circulating last week that Lady Gaga had arranged for her 90-year-old duet partner to appear during the halftime show at Super Bowl LI, the prospect rang alarm bells for anyone hoping that the outspoken pop star would address the tumult that’s spread through America in the two weeks since Donald Trump was sworn in as president.

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Patriots pull off stunner to win Super Bowl LI

(Courtesy NFL.com)

James White plunged in from two yards and the New England Patriots completed an amazing comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28, in overtime of Super Bowl LI.

The Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter and scored 31 unanswered points to make Tom Brady the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls.

We all brought each other back and we never felt out of it. We just made a few more plays than them.

Tom Brady

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From boring to best in two quarters?

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This about sums it up for Falcons fans right now

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Super Bowl Patriots make things interesting with another TD

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President Trump leaves his Super Bowl party early

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Falcons get closer to win with 28-9 lead entering 4th quarter

Falcons running back Tevin Coleman beats Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich to the goal line on a six-yard touchdown pass play.
( Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Matt Ryan and company took control early in the third quarter, throwing a six-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Coleman to extend the Falcons’ lead to 28-3.

The Patriots responded with a touchdown drive culminated by a Tom Brady pass to James White. The Patriots missed the extra point leaving the score 28-9 with two minutes left in the quarter.

The Patriots defense made a big stop near the end of the quarter to give the offense the ball back at the start of the fourth.

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Meanwhile, in Florida . . .

President Donald Trump chats with First Lady Melania Trump while watching the Super Bowl at Trump International Golf Club Palm Beach on Sunday.
(Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

President Trump cited his friendships with Patriots owner Bob Kraft and quarterback Tom Brady when making his Super Bowl prediction: New England to win by eight over the Atlanta Falcons.

He made the prediction during an interview shown by Fox before the game.

The president later took to Twitter, hoping all enjoyed the game.

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The complete controversial 84 Lumber commercial

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The Super Bowl GIF everyone will be talking about on Monday

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Some thoughts on Lady Gaga’s halftime show

(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

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Super Bowl: The field is getting ready for Lady Gaga

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Super Bowl: Falcons defense comes up big again

Hold everything!

That’s what the Falcons’ secondary seemed to be doing during a Patriots’ drive.

Cornerback Brian Poole was called for holding, cornerback Robert Alford was cited and then Poole was called again — all on third down.

But Alford got off the hook by intercepting a Tom Brady pass and returning it 82 yards for a touchdown to make the score, 21-0.

It was the second-longest interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fails to tackle Falcons defensive back Robert Alford after he intercepted a pass during the second quarter.
(Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

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The best episodes of TV to air after the Super Bowl: from ‘Wonder Years’ to ‘X-Files’

Love it or leave it, sometimes the best thing about the Super Bowl is the entertainment that follows it. To celebrate Super Sunday, here are five TV episodes that brought something special to their post-game moment.

When “The Wonder Years” debuted after the Super Bowl XXII game in 1988, it wasn’t the first series to premiere in that hallowed time slot, but it was arguably the most successful. America fell in love with the charming tale of how Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) and the country came of age during the late 1960s and early ’70s.

In 1997, Fox gave the most coveted annual spot on TV to “The X-Files,” then in its fourth season. The episode “Leonard Betts” was the perfect blend of the show’s horror and humanity, featuring a regenerating EMT who feeds on cancer and a corresponding diagnosis for one of the show’s primary players.

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Super Bowl: Falcons lead looks pretty good right now

Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons catches a 19 yard touchdown against Patrick Chung of the New England Patriots in the second quarter.
Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons catches a 19 yard touchdown against Patrick Chung of the New England Patriots in the second quarter.
(Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

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Slide show: Photos from Super Bowl LI between the Falcons and Patriots

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman breaks off a big run against the Patriots during the first half. To see more images from the game, click on the photo above.
(Al Bello / Getty Images)

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Will Lady Gaga speak out at the Super Bowl halftime show?

Lady Gaga at a Super Bowl news conference Thursday in Houston.
Lady Gaga at a Super Bowl news conference Thursday in Houston.
(Tannen Maury / EPA)

Lady Gaga isn’t one to pass up an opportunity to make a statement.

In 2010, the pop star famously wore a meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards as a way to critique the soft brutality of female beauty standards. And when she performed at the Academy Awards last year, she surrounded herself with young people identified as survivors of sexual assault.

Now she’s preparing for a gig — and a platform — bigger than any other: the halftime show at Sunday’s Super Bowl, which she’ll headline before an estimated television audience of more than 100 million viewers.

But how to make use of this closely watched moment?

Lady Gaga certainly has things to say about LGBT rights and the plight of the marginalized. And she’s certainly known for saying them — albeit in settings (like a Hollywood awards show) generally sympathetic to progressive causes.

Yet the Super Bowl is a different proposition, as Beyoncé found out last year when her halftime performance of the black-pride anthem “Formation” inspired a conservative backlash.

For some, America’s highest-profile football game — a locus of so-called traditional values — wasn’t the place to express such an idea.

That view is sure to be even more widely held this year. The U.S. seems particularly polarized in the wake of Donald Trump’s election and his tumultuous first two weeks as president.

Read the full story:

To speak or not to speak: The choice is Lady Gaga’s at the Super Bowl

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Having some fun with that Bieber commercial

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It’s the Freeman and Jones show on opening touchdown drive

Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is coaching Julio Jones for the final time before Shanahan becomes head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

He finally got the ball into Jones’ hands in the second quarter.

The dominating receiver showed his strength by grabbing a 19-yard reception over the middle in traffic and then got open on the next play for a 23-yard gain.

That, of course, opened up things for running back Devonta Freeman, who broke off runs of 15 and nine yards before scoring on a five-yard run.

Falcons Devonte Freemam dives for a five yard touchdown.
Falcons Devonte Freemam dives for a five yard touchdown.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

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There was definitely more action in the Puppy Bowl

The offenses will have to pick up considerably to match the scoring in the Puppy Bowl. Fluff vs Ruff. A traditional matchup.

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Real tough guys show up to support tough guys

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Super Bowl: Falcons D making things uncomfortable for Brady

The Falcons are making it uncomfortable for Tom Brady.

Linebacker Vic Beasley recorded 15 ½ sacks in the regular season, but interior linemen got to Brady early in the first quarter.

Tackle Courtney Upshaw sacked Brady for an eight-yard loss and tackle Grady Jarrett forced a punt with a one-yard sack.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Courtney Upshaw during the first quarter
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Courtney Upshaw during the first quarter
(Erik S. Lesser / EPA)

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Super Bowl: Slow start for the offenses

The defenses seem to have the early edge in the first quarter after the opening drives of each team stalled out.

After an initial three and out from the Patriots, the Falcons showed some life on the ground with a long run by Devonta Freeman. That drives stalled just after the Falcons crossed mid-field.

The Patriots were able to get out of the shadow of their own end zone during their second drive but two sacks by the Falcons defense forced them to punt.

Midway through the first quarter the game is still scoreless.

-- Angel Rodriguez

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Super Bowl: Politics front and center at start of game

With politics serving as one of the subtexts to the run-up to Super Bowl LI, it was no surprise that the pregame festivities featured some political overtones.

As they sang “America the Beautiful,” the Schuyler Sisters from the original cast of the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton” -- Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Jasmine Cephas – sang, “And crown thy good with brotherhood – and sisterhood.”

Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara received resounding cheers and a standing ovation before they tossed the coin before kickoff.

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Super Bowl: Former President George H.W. Bush flips coin

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Luke Bryan and Schuyler Sisters get game off on right note

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Super Bowl: Jackie Slater honored with other players from HBCUs

Former Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater was among the Pro Football Hall of Famers from historically black colleges who were introduced before the game.

Slater played at Jackson State before he was selected by the Rams in the third round of the 1976 draft.

Slater’s son, Matthew Slater, played at UCLA and is a Pro Bowl special teams player for the Patriots.

Receiver Jerry Rice, who played at Mississippi Valley State, received the loudest ovation.

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Super Bowl: A solemn memorial in the press box

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The first Tom Brady sighting on the Super Bowl field

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Sam Farmer gives a video tour of the press box at Super Bowl

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Will it be a Patriots crowd? Early signs say yes

The early-arriving crowd appears to be heavy on New England Patriots faithful.

Atlanta specialists were roundly booed when they came onto the field at NRG Stadium for pregame warm-ups.

The crowd roared when the Patriots came out, especially when quarterback Tom Brady and back-ups Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett followed a few minutes later.

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Roof at NRG Stadium in Houston will be closed for game

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Bettors moving line toward Falcons, but Patriots still strong favorites

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Super Bowl inactives

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Anthony Anderson disses Rams and Chargers, misses Raiders

During the pregame coverage of the Super Bowl, “Black-ish” star Anthony Anderson was asked by Cooper Manning about the two new teams in his native Los Angeles.

His response won’t please the front offices of the Rams or the Chargers.

Anderson said he wasn’t a fan of either team and pleaded for the Raiders to move to Los Angeles and not to Las Vegas.

Given the breakdown in the financing for the stadium in Las Vegas, it seems like the Raiders may stay put for the near future.

-- Angel Rodriguez

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Sam Farmer picks the Falcons, so it’s almost a lock

Over the course of the NFL season, the L.A. Times NFL columnist Sam Farmer had a prediction rate of 68% in his weekly picks.

That percentage places him at the top of the heap on NFLPickwatch.com. So who is Farmer picking in the Super Bowl?

It’s the Falcons, 31-27, so if you have enough time to make it to Vegas to place a bet, you have a couple hours.

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Lady Gaga is in the building

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President Trump picks the Patriots to win Super Bowl

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L.A. Times team is ready to go

Get all your updates from Super Bowl LI right here with expert analysis from Bill Plaschke, Sam Farmer and Gary Klein.

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His pick for Super Bowl winner again comes from the heart

(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

There is only one certified lock in this Super Bowl prediction column.

It’s going to be wrong.

In my three decades on the job, I have predicted 17 Super Bowls and been correct three times. Three. Seriously.

That’s a .176 batting average, worse than even that of Carl Crawford last season, although barely.

My problem is, this always being the most emotionally charged event on the sports calendar, I pick with emotion. I don’t use my head, but my heart. I don’t pick facts. I pick feelings.

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Tom Brady is the talk of Super Bowl LI

(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

No matter what your opinion of Tom Brady, the New England quarterback is the biggest story of Super Bowl LI.

Brady has four rings — as do San Francisco’s Joe Montana and Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw — and could be four quarters away from standing alone in the pantheon of greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. The Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday.

While his fans might argue he’s peerless, Brady does in fact have a large collection of peers, the quarterbacks who came before him on the league’s biggest stage. They have varying thoughts on what has gotten him this far.

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who won three Super Bowls, on Brady’s multiple supporting casts:

What’s amazed me about the Patriots and Tom is that they’ve done it with so many different people. Most of us who went to multiple Super Bowls pretty much had our same core. He’s done it with three- and four-wide-receiver sets when he had Randy Moss. He’s done it with two-tight-end packages. He did it earlier in his career when they were defense and running the football.”

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Notes: Patriots’ Chris Hogan’s road to the NFL began with a transition from lacrosse

Patriots receiver Chris Hogan adjusts his gloves during a team practice on Jan. 26 in Foxborough, Mass.
Patriots receiver Chris Hogan adjusts his gloves during a team practice on Jan. 26 in Foxborough, Mass.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Chris Hogan’s road to the Super Bowl did not begin until he retired his lacrosse stick.

The New England Patriots receiver played lacrosse at Penn State before transferring and playing football at Monmouth, a Football Championship Division school in his home state of New Jersey.

The agility, hand-eye coordination and physical style required to play high-level lacrosse helped him in his return to football, which he had not played since high school.

“Really, just being able to beat the man in front of you translates directly to playing receiver,” Hogan said.

Hogan, 28, starred in the Patriots’ AFC title game victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he could play a key role Sunday when they play the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium.

“Around here we like that kind of stuff,” star receiver Julian Edelman said when asked about Hogan’s transition from lacrosse to football and the NFL. “Nothing is really given to you. You have to go out and earn everything.

“He has done that.”

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Falcons’ Mack makes sure Santa Barbara prep teammate Duncan Krier is not forgotten during Super Bowl week

Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, left, called former San Marcos High School teammate Duncan Krier, right, the best high school football player he ever saw.
Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack, left, called former San Marcos High School teammate Duncan Krier, right, the best high school football player he ever saw.
(EPA; Duncan Krier)

That’s wild. That’s insane. Holy hell. Alex really said that about me?

Duncan Krier, a former teammate of Falcons center Alex Mack

It is the sort of question often asked of Super Bowl contestants who grew up in football-rich California, a question usually eliciting answers filled with legends and lore.

Who’s the greatest high school player you’ve ever seen?

Alex Mack, the Atlanta Falcons’ star center and the first Santa Barbara kid to appear in a Super Bowl, digested the query earlier this week and stroked his beard.

“You’re putting me on the spot here,’’ he said, beginning a long pause. “Let me think about it.”

In four years at San Marcos High, from 2000 to 2004, Mack played against future college and NFL stars sprinkled throughout the Southland. His prep journey was one long highlight video, his peripheral vision filled with the future greatness that surrounded him.

“Duncan Krier,” he finally said.

Who?

“Duncan Krier, our middle linebacker.”

Again, who? An ensuing Google search could find no evidence that a “Duncan Krier” ever played in the NFL, on a college team, or even for San Marcos High.

The only “Duncan Krier” who popped up was a ticket salesman for a minor league hockey team in Portland, Ore. A phone call was made. A message was tentatively delivered.

“Is this Duncan Krier? Alex Mack just told everyone at the Super Bowl that you were the best high school player he had ever seen.”

There was a prolonged silence.

“Yeah, I’m that Duncan Krier,” the voice said. “But don’t lie to me, man.”

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Running backs could be the key to victory in Super Bowl LI

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman celebrates during Atlanta's NFC playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 14.
Falcons running back Devonta Freeman celebrates during Atlanta’s NFC playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Jan. 14.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

One way you shorten the game is by running the ball. Another way they do it is Brady taking the play clock all the way down to one or two seconds. Watch for that too.

Former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt

It seemed like an unintentional slip of the tongue, but former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt raised eyebrows this week when he forecast what might happen with New England in Super Bowl LI.

“To be honest, I think Bill Belichick is going to try to take the air out of the football,” said Wannstedt, a Fox analyst, delivering an Xs and O’s chalk talk to a small group of reporters.

Deflategate jokes aside, the coach was making a valid point. With all the focus Sunday on the two quarterbacks, New England’s Tom Brady and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, this showdown could come down to the running games, with the Patriots’ strategist-in-chief looking to play ball control — or, take the air out of the ball — by leaning on the clock-chewing ground game.

“One way you shorten the game is by running the ball,” said Wannstedt, who was head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2000-04, facing Belichick’s Patriots twice a season. “Another way they do it is Brady taking the play clock all the way down to one or two seconds. Watch for that too.”

The Patriots have distinctly different running backs in the pounding, 250-pound LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns, and the quick-as-a-blink Dion Lewis, who played for Wannstedt at the University of Pittsburgh and is equally as effective as a receiver out of the backfield.

Asked who will be the difference-maker in this game, Lewis said: “Whoever can protect the ball best and not allow big plays.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, have a devastating one-two punch in running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman had 1,079 yards rushing, and 462 receiving. Coleman ran for 520 and caught passes for 421.

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John McKay’s son Rich takes aim at Super Bowl title with Falcons

((Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Among the many qualities Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay appreciated about his famous father, a legendary college football coach, was his unwillingness to walk away from difficult situations.

“Finish the drill, that’s what he believed,” McKay said of his late father, John, who won four national championships at USC during a coaching tenure that lasted from 1960 to ’75.

John McKay was coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 and ’77 when the expansion team lost its first 26 games. He might have felt the urge to bail out, but didn’t, and that franchise went on to reach the playoffs three times before he retired in 1984, and advanced to the NFC championship game in 1979.

“He clearly could have gone back to college and done whatever he needed to do, and he wasn’t doing it,” the younger McKay said. “He was going to get it right, and that was a really hard time from a family standpoint but so rewarding to see it finish the way it finished.

“Whatever the dark days are, you have got to hang in.”

That coach routinely finished the drill. Now, his son has a chance to finish the job.

Rich McKay, whose team plays New England on Sunday in Super Bowl LI, endured some incredibly trying times with the Falcons, the worst of which came in 2007 when star quarterback Michael Vick went to jail for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring, and coach Bobby Petrino — who was brought in to mold Vick into an elite player — quit when the Falcons were 3-10 to take the coaching job at Arkansas.

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Lady Gaga says her halftime performance will be true to her passions

(Larry W. Smith /EPA)

Thirteen years after a Houston Super Bowl that featured Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” Lady Gaga is hinting at an equally polarizing halftime show during Sunday’s Super Bowl LI game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium.

In a news conference Thursday, the politically active singer said she was not altering the tone of her traditionally inclusive act.

“The only statements I’ll be making during the halftime show are the ones that I’ve been consistently making throughout my career,’’ said Lady Gaga, who was an outspoken critic of President Trump during the recent campaign. “I believe in passion for inclusion. I believe in the spirit of equality, and that the spirit of this country is one of love and compassion and kindness.

“My performance will uphold those philosophies.’’

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NFL’s troubles not expected to hurt Super Bowl ratings

Super Bowl Sunday is often called a national holiday, and after this season, the beleaguered NFL can certainly use one.

Competition from the presidential election and having a few familiar mega-stars missing on the field led to an 8% ratings drop during the regular season — the first decline in four years. Fans are complaining about three-hour-plus games dragged out by commercial breaks and video reviews of plays and conferences by officials.

In addition, the long-term medical effects of head trauma injuries suffered on the field cast a shadow over the future of the NFL’s talent pool as athletes look to safer sports.

But there appears to be little concern on Madison Avenue that any of those issues will diminish the massive TV audience of more than 100 million viewers expected to watch the Fox telecast of Super Bowl LI when the New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons in Houston.

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Patriots, Raiders are big topics at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s news conference

Roger Goodell
(Tim Bradbury / Getty Images)

The New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders will play a game next season in Mexico, and issues surrounding those two NFL teams dominated questions Wednesday during Commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual Super Bowl news conference.

The Patriots, who will play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, have been at odds with Goodell over his four-game suspension of quarterback Tom Brady for his role in an alleged deflated-ball scheme.

“We’re moving on from that,” Goodell said of “Deflategate.” “That’s part of our history, but we’re comfortable with the process, the decision.”

Goodell later said the Raiders’ application to relocate was “one that we’re considering carefully, but there is a great deal of work to be done and there are several elements of that.”

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Dwight Freeney calls on his Super Bowl history to guide fellow Falcons

Atlanta's Dwight Freeney is one of four Falcons players with Super Bowl experience, having won one and lost one with the Indianapolis Colts.
(Tim Warner / Getty Images)

Defensive end Dwight Freeney has built his illustrious NFL career around his signature spin move. But he didn’t want spin from his next NFL team.

He said that’s the reason he turned down offers from other suitors and wound up signing with the Atlanta Falcons, even though they were a ho-hum 18-30 over the last three seasons.

“I just went with my heart,” said Freeney, 36, who spent his first 11 seasons with Indianapolis, followed by two with San Diego and one with Atlanta. “What sold me is how bad they really wanted me. It’s good to feel wanted on that level, this being my 15th year.”

Freeney is one of four Falcons players with Super Bowl experience, having won one and lost one with the Colts. By comparison, 22 members of this season’s New England Patriots have played on the NFL’s biggest stage.

Although he’s had just three sacks this season, Freeney — who routinely registered double digits in that category earlier in his career — has been hugely instrumental as a mentor to younger players. Chief among those is outside linebacker Vic Beasley, who led the NFL with 15½ sacks this season.

“He’s meant so much to me,” Beasley said of Freeney. “Bringing him on this team and bringing him into the organization has been a great help. He just preaches a work-hard mentality.”

For the Falcons, bringing in seasoned defensive linemen hasn’t always worked. Six years ago, they tried that with Ray Edwards, a veteran from the Minnesota Vikings, and he didn’t last a full two seasons. He wasn’t productive, and his attitude eventually led to him being shown the door.

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Former President George H.W. Bush to handle Super Bowl LI coin toss

Former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara speak at a college basketball game in Houston on March 29, 2015.
(David J. Phillip / AP)

Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, will handle the pregame coin toss at the Super Bowl.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says Wednesday that the former First Couple recently were released from Houston Methodist Hospital, where the nation’s 41st president received treatment for pneumonia for more than two weeks.

The former president is 92.

He often attends games of the Houston Texans, whose stadium hosts this Sunday’s championship game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.

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Patriots’ Malcolm Butler is ready for his next defining Super Bowl moment

Malcolm Butler etched his name into Super Bowl lore two years ago by intercepting a short Russell Wilson pass at the goal line, clinching the New England Patriots’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Butler was something of a mystery man at the time, an undrafted reserve cornerback who came up big in the biggest moment of the season.

On Tuesday, Butler deflected multiple questions about himself, saying it takes a team to win games and championships.

But he acknowledged the career-defining moment.

“I am most definitely known for that play — making one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history,” he said. “It helped my career.

“That is pretty much all I can say. I got us a ring.”

Butler’s profile is much bigger heading into Super Bowl LI on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

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20 recipes for your Super Bowl party

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Super wings, grilled shrimp cocktail, double-chocolate brownies, stuffed peppers, beer nuts and more. The Super Bowl is this Sunday — do you have a game plan to feed your hungry fans? Beyond the big screen TV and a cooler stocked with cold drinks, this is one party that’s all about the spread.

Whether you’re new to throwing a Super Bowl party (congratulations to the Falcons) or you throw one almost every year (time to break out the New England decorations again), we’ve got you covered when it comes to the food. From easy dishes you can make ahead to simple dishes you can throw on the grill last-minute, here are 20 great ideas from our Recipe Database to score big at your party this Sunday.

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Chris Long has a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps and win a Super Bowl

Former Rams defensive end Chris Long had four sacks with the Patriots this season.
(Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

Just pinch me.

Howie Long, Super Bowl champion and father of Chris Long

With the spectacle that is Super Bowl media night swirling about him, Chris Long sat at a podium in Minute Maid Park answering rapid-fire questions from reporters as fans in the bleachers shouted.

Last January, he could not have imagined being a part of the frenetic scene. He had just finished his eighth season with the Rams, his second in a row marred by injuries.

“A year ago I was thinking a lot about football or no football?” he said. “I was thinking about if I wanted to keep going, where I would be?

“So I never could have dreamed of this.”

On Sunday, Long will achieve a lifelong goal when he competes for an NFL championship.

The veteran defensive lineman is a key role player for a New England Patriots team that will meet the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium.

And his father, Howie Long, a Super Bowl champion and Pro Football Hall of Fame player, will be on site watching closely — and rooting for his son — while working as an NFL analyst for the “Fox NFL Sunday” show.

“Just pinch me,” Howie Long said Monday.

This is how both Chris Long and his father hoped the season would play out after Chris signed a free-agent contract with the Patriots in March.

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Kyle Shanahan may not have become Rams coach, but he’s headed to Super Bowl LI

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, left, talks with Coach Dan Quinn during a workout in Georgia on Jan. 27.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

Nothing is set in stone until I get a chance to sit down and make something official. Once I do get that opportunity and things work out, it’s something I’ve waited for my whole life.

Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan

Two offensive coordinators for Super Bowl-bound teams were among those in the mix when the Rams began their coaching search.

The Rams interviewed New England’s Josh McDaniels. A snowstorm dashed a scheduled meeting with Atlanta’s Kyle Shanahan.

Ultimately, the Rams hired Sean McVay, making the 31-year-old the youngest coach in NFL history.

“Sean’s a great coach and a good friend of mine,” Shanahan said Monday night, “and he’ll do a hell of a job.”

Still, Rams fans will get a glimpse Sunday of what might have been when the Patriots play the Falcons in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium.

McDaniels, 40, helped the Patriots defeat the Rams, 26-10, at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 4. The Rams were among several teams that interviewed him, but he is expected to return to the Patriots next season.

Shanahan, 37, helped direct the Falcons to a 42-14 victory over the Rams in a Dec. 11 game that ended Jeff Fisher’s four-plus seasons as coach. Shanahan is the new coach of the San Francisco 49ers, though NFL policy forbids the team to announce the hire until after the Super Bowl.

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20 reasons why Super Bowl LI is a classic Good vs. Evil matchup

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is introduced at a pre-Super Bowl event in Houston on Tuesday.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is introduced at a pre-Super Bowl event in Houston on Tuesday.
(Tim Warner / Getty Images)

It’s cheating Brady against wide-eyed Matty.

It’s an owner who stalks against one who dances.

It’s a coach wearing a hoodie against one who dresses in Navy SEAL mottos.

The Super Bowl pitting the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons features competing auras as clear as the rumple in Bill Belichick’s sweatshirt or the curl of Tom Brady’s upper lip.

According to Public Policy Polling, the Patriots are the most disliked team in pro football for a second consecutive season. By comparison, the relatively blah Falcons are beloved.

Even with this week’s revelations about the Falcons’ past concerns over their players’ use of pain medication, this truly feels like a Super Bowl of not just David vs. Goliath, but that old favorite, Good vs. Evil, and here are 20 reasons why:

1) The Patriots are convicted scoundrels, from Spygate to Deflategate, the most untrustworthy sports franchise in America since the 1919 Black Sox. Remember, Brady was suspended for the first four games this season for his alleged involvement in the deflation of footballs.

The Falcons are too trusting. They panicked during Monday’s media night when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan briefly lost a backpack that contained the team’s game plan. Seriously, who still carries their game plan in a backpack?

2) The Patriots are led by the Trump Trinity: owner Bob Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Brady are all confirmed devotees of President Trump.

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Patriots’ Brady only wants to talk about football before the Super Bowl

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady answers questions during opening night for Super Bowl LI at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 30.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady answers questions during opening night for Super Bowl LI at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 30.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sat through a solid hour of questions from reporters lined up in a semicircle that was at times seven to eight deep.

Several questions involved President Trump, whom Brady has described as a friend.

“I’m not talking politics at all because I just want to focus on the positive aspects of this game and my teammates and the reasons why we’re here,” Brady said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point and I just want to focus on the positive nature of two great teams competing at the highest level.”

He also deflected questions about Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended him for four games because of his role in an alleged deflated-ball scheme. “I just wish everybody the best,” he said.

Brady laughed through the usual media-night questions, ranging from how he stayed so good-looking to how he would describe his hot-tub routine.

But he got emotional, his eyes welling, when he described his father, Tom Brady Sr., as his hero.

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Hey, Coach Mora: Patriots’ Slater is willing to help out

Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) leaves the field after New England beat the Texans in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 14.
Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) leaves the field after New England beat the Texans in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 14.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Matt Slater should be one of Jim Mora’s best recruiting tools for UCLA football, especially on the eve of national signing day Wednesday. Slater is a former Bruin who became a six-time Pro Bowl special teams player and will be seeking his second Super Bowl ring on Sunday with the New England Patriots.

Except Slater has never even spoken to Mora.

“Actually, I’ve never met Coach Mora, no,” Slater said Monday at Super Bowl media day. “I haven’t been back to campus in a while.”

It’s not that Slater doesn’t like giving back to the community. In fact, he gives back so much that he recently won the 2016 Bart Starr man of the year award for community service.

Slater said that if UCLA needs him, Mora just has to call.

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Atlanta Falcons worried about team’s ‘excessive’ use of painkillers, 2010 emails show

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank watches the team warm up before a Jan. 14 game against Seattle.
(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

A string of emails from 2010 that began with the trainer and reached all the way to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank showed a franchise worried about an “excessive” reliance on painkillers to treat players.

The emails were read into the record in a proposed federal class-action lawsuit filed by former NFL players claiming they were encouraged to abuse dangerous drugs to continue playing without regard for their long-term health.

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Falcons assistant Kyle Shanahan sounds ready for his next step as coach of the San Francisco 49ers

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan speaks with the media during Super Bowl L1 media night at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 30.
Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan speaks with the media during Super Bowl L1 media night at Minute Maid Park on Jan. 30.
(Tim Warner / Getty Images)

You want to bring in the right people, try to commit to it with the draft picks, free agency. There’s a lot of distraction in this league and it’s tough to make the right decisions, but when you’ve got everyone going in the right direction ... that’s what gives you a chance.

Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan

Kyle Shanahan draws up an offense better than he plays defense.

The Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator didn’t dodge and deflect Monday night about his future as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, even though he can’t officially be hired until after the Super Bowl.

He patiently answered the questions of reporters who encircled him during the Falcons’ media session at the NFL’s “Opening Night” event. In so doing, he already sounded like a head coach.

“I just think the key to a good organization is people who are committed to winning,” said the 37-year-old Shanahan, whose father, Mike, won two Super Bowls as coach of the Denver Broncos. “You want to bring in the right people, try to commit to it with the draft picks, free agency. There’s a lot of distraction in this league and it’s tough to make the right decisions, but when you’ve got everyone going in the right direction ... that’s what gives you a chance.”

Shanahan is in the same position that Falcons Coach Dan Quinn was in two years ago. Quinn had essentially been hired as Atlanta’s next coach, yet he needed to finish his responsibilities as the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive coordinator in the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the 49ers moved ahead with their biggest front-office acquisition, and it was a shocker. They hired John Lynch to a reported six-year deal as general manager, even though the Fox analyst and retired safety — a Hall of Fame finalist — has no experience as a scout or personnel executive.

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Falcons GM Dimitroff has risen from a humble football beginning to potential Super Bowl winner

Under the leadership of General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Atlanta Falcons are knocking on the door of a Super Bowl title.
Under the leadership of General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Atlanta Falcons are knocking on the door of a Super Bowl title.
(Mike McCarn / Associated Press)

Here I’d have paint all over me, smelling like I’d been traveling Europe for 10 days, and Scott and I would just talk football.

Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff

Thomas Dimitroff began his NFL career on the ground floor in the truest sense.

Dimitroff, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, got his start working on the grounds crew for the Cleveland Browns, pulling tarps, mowing and raking, painting lines on the practice fields and the like. What’s more, those Browns were coached by Bill Belichick, whose New England Patriots will face the Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Sunday at NRG Stadium.

Despite his meager beginnings, Dimitroff had a leg up on his career as an NFL talent evaluator. His late father, Tom Sr., was a longtime scout for the Browns.

“I went to Japan for a few months with a buddy and coached a corporate team,” said Dimitroff, 50, who grew up in Canada and played defensive back for the University of Guelph in Ontario, before briefly scouting in the Canadian Football League and World League.

He came back to the U.S., lived with his parents in Cleveland, and pondered his next move. His dad basically told him that if he wanted to get a job in the NFL, which had been the young man’s lifelong dream, it was now or never. So he took a job on the grounds crew, and that’s where he met up-and-coming Browns scout Scott Pioli, now his assistant general manager in Atlanta.

Dimitroff would work the practice fields during the day, then watch tape at night to keep his evaluation skills sharp.

“Here I’d have paint all over me, smelling like I’d been traveling Europe for 10 days, and Scott and I would just talk football,” Dimitroff said. “That was the beginning of a really cool and deep relationship with Scott.”

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Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has a history of toughness

(Tom Pennington / Getty Images)

He comes back in a play later, his mouth’s all bloody, he looks at us and, I don’t want to swear, but, ‘Let’s… go.’

Left tackle Jeremy Trueblood on Matt Ryan

It was the kind of hit that would have other quarterbacks questioning why they ever picked up a football in the first place.

Matt Ryan, then a red shirt sophomore at Boston College, took the snap, dropped back, and quickly scanned the field as he rolled to his right. Just as he dumped off a short pass to his running back, Ryan was flattened by 225-pound Clemson linebacker David Dunham, the chest shot hitting him like the butt end of a swinging log. Ryan’s head snapped forward violently, his helmet flew off and his chin bounced off his chest.

Video of the hit instantly went viral and now, a dozen years later, has more than half a million YouTube views. But it’s what happened after that video clip that captures the essence of who Ryan is as a quarterback, and helps explain how this season he has lifted the struggling Atlanta Falcons — 18-30 the last three seasons — to the NFL mountaintop.

After briefly regaining his composure on the sideline in that 2005 game, Ryan jogged back onto the field and reclaimed command of the huddle.

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Alliance with Trump may prove to be a Super distraction for Patriots trio

A Patriots fan holds a sign referring to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and President Trump during the AFC championship on Jan. 22.
A Patriots fan holds a sign referring to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Coach Bill Belichick and President Trump during the AFC championship on Jan. 22.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

The week before the Super Bowl is historically filled with all sorts of sordid distractions, from cocaine to prostitutes to the infamously bared butt of a quarterback.

But there has never been anything like the divisive presence that will soon threaten to fracture the attention of the New England Patriots.

He is President Trump, and beginning next week in Houston, he will be the Patriots’ Disturber in Chief.

The Patriots’ holy trinity has formed what some sports fans might consider an unholy alliance with Trump. Now that he’s running the country, the three men are already running from the questions.

Give the Atlanta Falcons the early edge, because the Patriots will begin the week playing defense.

Tom Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, doesn’t want to talk about his openly displayed Trump cap, his campaign statements and his supportive phone calls.

“Why does everybody make such a big deal?’’ Brady said on Boston’s WEEI radio this week. “I don’t want to get into it.’’

Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ coach, doesn’t want to talk about an inspirational pep-talk letter he wrote to Trump before the election.

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Houston mayor says protests won’t hurt Super Bowl LI activities

Protesters gather near the NFL Super Bowl LI fan zone in Houston on Sunday.
Protesters gather near the NFL Super Bowl LI fan zone in Houston on Sunday.
(Larry W. Smith / European Pressphoto Agency)

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says demonstrations during Super Bowl week won’t prevent fans from having a good time.

Turner said Monday that demonstrations like the one Sunday outside Super Bowl headquarters with protesters opposing President Trump’s travel restrictions from some Muslim countries are “about people exercising their constitutional right to voice their opinion.”

Calling Houston “the most diverse city in the country,” Turner noted “we can do that and have good football at the same time.”

Turner stressed that security would not be an issue and that the city has worked for four years preparing to host the game for the first time since 2004.

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Only the Falcons stand in the way of Brady and Belichick making Super Bowl history

Falcons Coach Dan Quinn answers questions at the team's practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., on Jan. 23.
Falcons Coach Dan Quinn answers questions at the team’s practice facility in Flowery Branch, Ga., on Jan. 23.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

I did not get much sleep. I generally don’t after games. I’m thinking about what we could have done differently.

Atlanta Falcons Coach Dan Quinn

The Atlanta Falcons have themes for several days of the week. There’s Competition Wednesday, Turnover Thursday, Finish Friday…

And now Sleepless Sunday.

The Falcons are still trying to wrap their heads around their first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1998 season, the result of their 44-21 thrashing of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game.

“I did not get much sleep,” Atlanta Coach Dan Quinn said Monday at team headquarters. “I generally don’t after games. I’m thinking about what we could have done differently.”

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What time does Super Bowl LI start?

Tom Brady, left, will lead the New England Patriots against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
(Ron Schwane, Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are the last teams standing in the NFL. They will face off in Super Bowl LI on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The game is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Fox.

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The best of Super Bowl LI prop bets

Odds are Patriots Coach Bill Belichick will don a blue hoodie during Super Bowl LI.
Odds are Patriots Coach Bill Belichick will don a blue hoodie during Super Bowl LI.
(Jim Rogash / Getty Images)

What color hoodie will Bill Belichick wear during Super Bowl LI?

When will the word “Deflategate” be uttered for the first time during the Fox broadcast of the game?

Who will be the heaviest and tallest players to score a touchdown?

Will Fox broadcaster Joe Buck be sporting any facial hair? And what will his tie look like?

If you know the answer to these or other extremely relevant questions, you might want to make some prop bets in the days leading up to the big game between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons on Feb. 5 in Houston.

Here are some of the latest odds, according to SportsBettingDime.com:

Belichick’s hoodie

The coach has gone with blue in both of the Patriots’ games this postseason, so that color will get you 4-11 odds. Gray comes in at 3-1, red at 40-1 and anything else at 50-1.

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