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Matt Ryan has re-watched Super Bowl LI loss to Patriots several times 04.11.17 at 1:12 pm ET
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Matt Ryan thought the Falcons had the game won late in the fourth quarter. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Matt Ryan thought the Falcons had the game won late in the fourth quarter. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

After blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl, some players might not want to watch the game ever again.

Not Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, as he wanted to take defeat head-on.

“No, I watched it,” Ryan told reporters Monday at his celebrity-amateur golf tournament at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth. “I watched it a day after. I watched it two days after and I watched it three days after. For me, it was one of those things where you kind of want to be able to deal with it appropriately. Maybe, that’s different for everybody.

“Some people bury it away. Some people [do] whatever. … For me it was ‘alright, let’s watch. Does it feel the same way it felt as we were going through it?’”

Ryan admitted when he connected with Julio Jones to get down to the 22-yard line late in the fourth quarter, he thought they had the game won.

“When I let it go, I was just trying to put it high in a safe spot for him to make a play,” Ryan said. “I did that. I was fired up at that point. I thought that was going to be a play that was going to change the outcome of that game. Obviously, the next couple of plays unfolded, and we didn’t end up converting [it into] points. At the time, I thought it was a huge play.”

Ultimately, Ryan believes he and the Falcons can use the loss to their benefit as they hope to reach the game again this coming season.

“I think everybody is going to be really hungry to get back there,” Ryan said. “Because, the one thing that I’m proud of, we have a young team, and we were ready to play. We played well. We were right in the mix.

“We fell a little bit short, but we should have every bit of confidence that we are going to be right back there next year getting a different outcome because we’re going to be more experienced.”

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Snap Judgments: Tom Brady directs greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, Patriots win their 5th Lombardi Trophy in OT 02.05.17 at 10:29 pm ET
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The Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in overtime.(Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots overcame a 28-3 deficit to beat the Falcons in overtime.(Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — The Patriots made history in the most dramatic way Sunday night in Super Bowl LI.

James White scored his third touchdown of the night on a 2-yard run with 11:02 left in the first overtime in Super Bowl history, giving the Patriots their fifth Super Bowl title with an unbelievable 34-28 win over the Falcons.

The winning touchdown came after a 14-yard pass interference call on the Falcons.

After being handed the Lombardi Trophy by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (who was roundly booed while delivering his congratulatory speech), Patriots owner Robert Kraft called the victory, “unequivocally the sweetest” of all the team’s championships.

Brady finished 43-of-62 for 466 yards and two touchdowns and earned his fourth Super Bowl MVP. White had a pair of touchdown runs and a touchdown catch.

Down 28-3 with two minutes left in the third quarter and 19 points in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history and the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL playoff history.

Julian Edelman got his hands under a tipped pass just before the ball hit the ground before the two-minute warning. The miracle catch put the Patriots at the Atlanta 41. Several plays later, James White ran it in from two yards with 57 seconds left, followed by a two point conversion from Brady to Danny Amendola.

Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes and the Falcons turned two turnovers into scores as the Falcons appeared on their way to their first world championship in their 51-year history. Ryan played the first three quarters with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.

The Patriots played their most uncharacteristic game at the worst time. LeGarrette Blount fumbled deep in Atlanta territory in a scoreless game and Tom Brady had a nightmare of a first half that included a pick-6 by Robert Alford.

Picked by nearly every national expert to lose, the touchdown underdog Falcons certainly didn’t play like it. Led by a Super Bowl-tying three sacks from Grady Jarrett, they manhandled the Patriots on both sides of the ball.

The Patriots finish the season 17-2 and are now 5-4 in their nine Super Bowl appearances.

The game started after an emotional rendition of “America The Beautiful” from the cast of “Hamilton” and the national anthem from Luke Bryan. Following that, President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara were carted onto the field and made their way to midfield for the coin toss. Both had been recently released from the hospital after battling various medical issues.

Matthew Slater called heads and the former President flipped the coin and it turned up tails. The Falcons deferred and the Patriots received to open Super Bowl LI.

Brady targeted Julian Edelman on the first two plays of the game. The first was an incompletion over the middle followed by an inside slant for nine yards. But the Patriots were forced 3-and-out when LeGarrette Blount ran to his right and was stopped for no gain.

Ryan Allen boomed a big punt and, after a holding call, pinned the Falcons inside their 10. On the first play, Devonta Freeman broke loose for 37 yards when he went to his left and cut back up the middle. But the Patriots quickly recovered, with the key play coming on a Patrick Chung tackle on Patrick DiMarco in one-on-one coverage. On the next play, Rob Ninkovich broke through for the drive-ending sack.

The Patriots got the ball for a third time in the first quarter but not before it ended, extending the first-quarter scoreless streak in Super Bowls to seven. In all seven Belichick-Brady Super Bowl appearances, the Patriots don’t have a single point in the opening 15 minutes.

Following a 27-yard completion from Brady to Edelman, the Patriots had the ball first-and-10 at the Atlanta 33. But on the very next play, Falcons linebacker Deion Jones made a huge play, powerfully stripping the ball from LeGarrette Blount. Defensive back Robert Alford recovered at the Atlanta 29. The Falcons wasted no time capitalizing. Matt Ryan fired a 19-yard bullet over the middle to Julio Jones, who wrestled the ball from Logan Ryan.

On the next play, Ryan targeted Jones on the left sideline. He was wide open for 23 yards to the Patriots 29. Freeman followed with gashing runs of 15 and 9 off right and left tackle, respectively. The Patriots were obviously on their heels against the hurry-up Falcons. The Patriots called time out on 2nd-and-1. But it didn’t help. Jones came in motion to the inside but Freeman ran a misdirect and jogged untouched to the goal line before diving in for the first score of the game.

The Falcons made it 14-0 against a reeling, backpedaling and seemingly winded Patriots defense. Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper on an in-slant from 19 yards. It marked the biggest Super Bowl deficit in the Belichick-Brady era.

Desperate for a score, the Falcons young secondary aided the Patriots’ cause immensely on the ensuing drive. The Falcons committed three defensive holding fouls on third down and the Patriots looked ready to capitalize, with the ball at the Falcons 23. But on yet another third down, there was no bail out from the officials, only a telegraphed pass to Julian Edelman on an slant that Robert Alford stepped in front of at the Falcons 18 and raced 82 yards for the second-longest pick-6 in Super Bowl history (James Harrison, 100 yards, Super Bowl XLIII), falling behind 21-0.

The Patriots, in desperate need of a drive and some big breaks, got one on the next drive. Brady dropped back to pass and was hit. The ball wobbled. But instead of another turnover, the ball landed in the hands of Martellus Bennett, who gained 19 yards. Then several plays later, Brady hit James White in the right flat. White made 28 yards. The Patriots made it down to the Atlanta 3 on another completion to White. But a holding call on Bennett brought it back to the 23. On the next play, with 12 seconds left, Brady threw to Bennett in the left flat on a screen. The clock nearly ran out as Bennett was tackled. But the Patriots were able to execute a 41-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to make it 21-3 Atlanta at the half.

The Falcons ran just 19 plays in the first half to New England’s 40.

Closing Time noteTom Brady becomes the first quarterback to win 5 Super Bowls.

[For a full box score and stats, click here.]

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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick New England Patriots, James White, Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan beats out Tom Brady in race for NFL MVP 02.04.17 at 9:27 pm ET
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Matt Ryan (right) edge Tom Brady for MVP honors this year. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

Matt Ryan (right) edge Tom Brady for MVP honors this year. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — Tom Brady finished second in the MVP voting to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, it was announced on Saturday.

Ryan ended with 25 votes, while Brady had 10. Third place went to Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott (six votes), while Oakland quarterback Derek Carr (six votes), Green Bay’s Aaron Rogers (two votes) and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott (one vote) rounded out the voting.

It is the first MVP award for the former Boston College quarterback, who led his team to the NFC title.

Despite the fact that their guy didn’t win his third MVP, Patriots’ fans can take solace in the fact that it’s extremely rare for a guy to win a Super Bowl and an MVP in the same season. The last guy to do it? Kurt Warner in 1999.

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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Super Bowl LI at 3:55 pm ET
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Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be going for their fifth ring together on Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be going for their fifth ring together on Sunday. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — Here’s everything you need to know about Super Bowl LI between the Patriots and Falcons:


The Patriots have been able to get good, consistent and (mostly) steady yardage out of their backs all season long, finishing the regular season with an average of 117 yards per game, seventh in the NFL. Leading the way has been LeGarettte Blount, who had career highs in carries (299), yards (1,161) and touchdowns (18). New England figures to mix in a healthy dose of Dion Lewis (64 carries, 283 yards in seven games) as a changeup presence between the tackles. His make-you-miss ability combined with Atlanta’s occasionally dicey work against smaller backs could mean he’ll get more work that initially anticipated as a runner. As has been the case all season long with Blount, it’s not how many yards he gets; it’s when he gets them. No one is better at closing out games than he is — his work in the second half is a sizable reason why the Patriots ranked fifth during the regular season in time of possession (31:13). If he is able to top 60 rushing yards in the second half, this game won’t even be a contest. When it comes to defending the run, Atlanta was 17th in the league this year, having allowed 104.5 rushing yards per game. Some of the stats have to be placed in context because of game situations and whatnot (there were lots of leads in those games, and they would willingly yield yards on the ground and time at the expense of a big pass play). But in their last nine games (including the playoffs), opponents have topped 95 yards on the ground in eight of them.


This season, Atlanta hasn’t faced a combination in the passing game like New England. Tom Brady (67 percent completion rate, 3.554 passing yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs, 112.2 passer rating) and the Patriots are able to get production out of multiple areas, with wide receivers Julian Edelman (98 catches, 159 targets, 1,106 yards, 3 TDs) and Chris Hogan (38 catches, 58 targets, 680 yards, 4 TDs), running backs James White (60 catches, 86 targets, 551 yards, 5 TDs) and Dion Lewis (17 catches, 24 targets, 94 yards) and tight end Martellus Bennett (55 catches, 73 targets, 701 yards, 7 TDs).

The key here? The Falcons have shown some zone over the course of the year, but they’ll need to play sturdy man coverage against the Patriots. Brady practically salivates at the idea of an occasionally vulnerable 3-deep zone like Atlanta has shown at times this year. The real backbreaker here will be in the White/Lewis combo out of the backfield. The Atlanta is one of the worst teams in the league (26th per Football Outsiders) at defending backs in the passing game. Expect New England to lean heavily on that grouping in the passing game. It’s no coincidence that the Patriots were able to get so much production out of their running back spot in their last game against a Dan Quinn-defense; Shane Vereen set a Super Bowl record with 11 catches two years ago against the Seahawks. Considering what happened down the stretch and into the playoffs, while White will almost certainly get some looks, it’s Lewis who has shown a masterful ability to do multiple things. Bottom line? He’ll get plenty of touches.

One more note that will spell doom for the Falcons: The ability of the New England pass catchers to gain yards after the catch. The Patriots were third in the year at YAC this past season as a team (White and Bennett were both in the league’s top 20), while the Falcons allowed a league-high average of 132.9 yards after the catch per game, an odd stat for a defense with so much speed. If Atlanta can’t find a way to limit the passing YAC ability, it’ll be a long night.

The Falcons pass rush has been better as of late, but the group has to figure out a way to get some sustained pressure on Brady. Do you move around some of your best rushers, like Houston did? Or do you stay static and play to your strengths and hope you’ve prepared to a point where you can out-execute the other side? If Atlanta moves some guys around, rookie Deion Jones is a candidate to try and be that guy who brings some heat up the middle. A dynamic young talent who is capable of blitzing or working in coverage, he’s an X factor for the group. If the Falcons play it straight up, Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks in 2016) will be lining up opposite Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon. Per PFF, Cannon hasn’t yielded a sack since September. That strength-against-strength matchup will go a long way toward determining the overall success of the New England passing game on Sunday night.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dan Quinn, Devin McCourty, Devonta Freeman
Why Troy Aikman is so excited for Sunday’s Super Bowl showdown 01.31.17 at 6:31 pm ET
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Troy Aikman is all-in on this Super Bowl matchup. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Troy Aikman is all-in on this Super Bowl matchup. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — Troy Aikman is just as fired up as everyone else.

He’s well aware of the history of the two signal-callers coming into this game: Super Bowl LI features the highest combined passer rating by opposing quarterbacks in any Super Bowl. The idea of Tom Brady and Matt Ryan going head-to-head with everything at stake? You can’t blame the former Dallas quarterback for being more than a little giddy about the showdown between what he called “the two top quarterbacks in the league this year.”

“It’s not surprising. I expect them both to go out and play well — they have all year. I hope they do,” Aikman said Tuesday. “When you get into a game like this, that has this type of magnitude, you just want everybody to give their best effort and you can walk off the field saying I did the best I could. You’re still going to be disappointed if you didn’t win. But going out and not playing well in a game like this is the last thing you want.”

Of course, Aikman — who will call the game on Fox with Joe Buck — can appreciate a well-executed defensive scheme as well. He’s anxious to see what Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have in store for Ryan and the high-octane Atlanta offense.

“I’m looking forward — really probably [the] most — to seeing what Bill Belichick has in store for that offense,” he said. “I don’t want speak for Bill Belichick, but I would think he’s not going to let Julio Jones beat him. [That] would be first.

“And then, I think the other part of that is, you look back to that first Super Bowl of theirs against the Rams and how much they banged Marshall Faulk coming out of the backfield,” he added. “I could see where it could be a physical, punishing game for [Devonta] Freeman and [Tevin] Coleman coming out of the backfield.”

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10 things you have to know about Falcons: Atlanta brings great offense, mediocre defense into Super Bowl LI 01.28.17 at 1:51 pm ET
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Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a terrific Atlanta offense into Super Bowl LI. (Daniel Shirey/USA Today Sports)

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a terrific Atlanta offense into Super Bowl LI. (Daniel Shirey/USA Today Sports)

This is everything you need to know about the Falcons, who will meet the Patriots next Sunday in Houston in Super Bowl LI.

1. This is the best and most complete offense the Patriots will face all season. Whatever metric you want to use, Atlanta has the most productive offense in the league. The Falcons were first in the league in offensive DVOA, and ended the 2016 regular season tops in the NFL in scoring with 540 total points and an average of 33.8 points per game. Matt Ryan completed 70 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 117.1. Wide receiver Julio Jones is one of the top three or four receivers in the league, having finished the year with 83 catches on 129 targets for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. (More on him in a second.) They also have an awesome combination at running back, with Devonta Freeman (227 carries, 1,079 rush yards, 11 touchdowns) and Tevin Coleman (118 carries, 520 rush yards, eight touchdowns). Freeman is also a legit threat in the passing game, with 54 catches on 65 targets for 462 receiving yards and two touchdowns. That doesn’t even include other complementary pieces like wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (more on him in a second as well) and Taylor Gabriel. The simple fact of the matter is that this is the best, deepest and most complete offense the Patriots will face all season long.

2. Julio Jones is a receiver who can beat you on all three levels. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is distinguished not only by his home-run ability on deep balls from Ryan, but the fact that he’s more versatile than a lot of those big play guys because of his ability to get yards after the catch. Jones finished the 2016 regular season with 388 yards after the catch, an incredibly high total for someone known primarily as a deep ball guy. His ability to work multiple routes, including underneath as well as vertical pass plays, makes him a terrifying prospect for any defensive coordinator. Considering the fact that they’ll also have their hands full with a dual threat in the backfield, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots try and slow Jones. Do they double him? Will Eric Rowe — the biggest and longest Patriots’ corner — be assigned to try and get a little physical with Jones? Or will it be Logan Ryan, who has had plenty of work this season going against opposing No. 1 receivers? All food for thought this week.

3. The Quincy Enunwa Award might go to Mohamed Sanu. The passing games that have put the most stress on the Patriots have been the deeper attacks, teams that have quality third and fourth options in the passing game. (To use an example we’ve harkened back to on a number of occasions, it wasn’t Brandon Marshall who got to the Patriots, but Enunwa.) With that in mind, if the Patriots are focused on slowing Jones, Coleman and Freeman, Sanu is the guy who might have an opportunity to do some real damage. The former Rutgers star had 59 catches on 81 targets for 653 yards and four touchdowns this year. Not overwhelming offensive numbers, but he’s carved out a niche as a good ancillary piece of the Atlanta offense. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he’s a big target who figures to have a sizable role in Atlanta’s offensive game plan on Sunday.

4. As good as the offense is, the defense has real issues. This is where the comparison to the 2001 Rams falls apart for me, because that defense was legit. This defense is not. For a coach who made his bones as a defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn’s Atlanta defense is the far weaker of the two units. The Falcons allowed an average of 25.4 points per game on the season, 27th in the league. If they win, that would represent the most points per game allowed by any Super Bowl champion. Atlanta allowed an average of 266.7 passing yards per game, 28th in the league, while the Falcons were 17th in the NFL this past season against the run, having allowed an average of 104.5 rushing yards per game. The defense finished with 22 takeaways (12 interceptions, 10 fumbles) for 16th in the league. Linebacker Deion Jones leads Atlanta in interceptions (three) and is a budding star, while linebacker Vic Beasley (15.5 sacks off the edge) is far and away the best pass rusher on the roster. But because of injury and personnel, there are issues on the back end.

5. Tom Brady doesn’t have a long resume against a Quinn defense, but the numbers are pretty good. Richard Smith is Atlanta’s defensive coordinator, but the defense flows through Quinn, who made his bones as the DC with the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014 before he became the head coach with the Falcons in 2015. Quinn has tried to institute the same sort of system that he had in place with Seattle, but it’s come up lacking, at least statistically. The one game Brady has played against a Quinn defense came in Super Bowl XLIX, when he went 37-for-50 for 328 yards, with four touchdowns and two interceptions, as well as a sack and a passer rating go 101.1.

6. You can run on them, but it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots go about attacking them on the ground. All these numbers need to be placed in some sort of context, but for a team that has played with a lead for a significant portion of the season (which usually means teams are throwing to try and get back into the game, or at least trying to keep pace with the Atlanta offense), they seem to give up an awful lot of yardage. The Falcons allowed 4.5 yards per carry on the season; only six teams were worse in that department. In seven of their last nine games, Atlanta has allowed 100 or more yards on the ground, but more of those big days came when slightly undersized guys managed to generate good yards against them, not the bigger backs like LeGarrette Blount. (Maybe more work between the tackles for the likes of Dion Lewis? Just a thought.) A lot of the totals were posted some time ago, so take them with a grain of salt. But in six career games against the Falcons, Blount has 72 carries for 306 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That averages out to just over 50 yards a game and 4.25 yards per carry. (In the context of this conversation, Blount has just one game in his career against a Quinn-defense: Super Bowl XLIX, where he had 14 carries for 40 yards and no touchdowns.)

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Read More: Dan Quinn, Deion Jones, Devonta Freeman, Eric Weems
How advice from Vince Wilfork could pay big dividends for Devin McCourty and Patriots D in Super Bowl LI 01.27.17 at 6:50 pm ET
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Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) runs the ball against New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) during the second quarter in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Devin McCourty will once again play a big role in the Patriots secondary in Super Bowl LI. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Years before “Do Your Job” became part of the football lexicon in 2014, Vince Wilfork, still with the Patriots, had his own take on keeping to your responsibilities when he was trying to get his message across to the Patriots secondary.

Asked Friday about the need to recognize pass versus the run in light of the Falcons weapons in both areas, Devin McCourty recalled what Big Vince once told him in his second season.

“I remember Vince telling me that back in, I think 2011. He came in and told the whole secondary, he said, ‘We’ve got the run. If you’re supposed to be deep, stay deep.’ He said it with a little different choice of words, but that stuck with me,” McCourty said. “The key to any big game is a guy that’s supposed to be playing the deep middle part of the field not making a tackle in the run game for two yards. If you do that, you’re wrong. I don’t care really how it was drawn up. You’re wrong. I think that’s always the key when you play an offense like this that’s so balanced. Guys just have to do their job. You have to play your assignment, whatever that is and whatever defense it is, you’ve got to just play your assignment.”

In other words, “Guys that are up front that the defense dictates different roles for us, and if you’ve got to play the run, you play the run, and if you’ve got to play the pass, you play the pass,” McCourty said.

The key for the Patriots will be taking care of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman close to the line of scrimmage before they get to the second level.

“They’re tough. It’s hard in this league when you let these guys, if they get in the open field and you’ve got to have one or two guys just try to bring them down in a one-on-one situation,” McCourty said. “It’s tough. Freeman is very elusive, so is Coleman. Those are guys that it’s not even just breaking runs, it’s when they split out and they run a route that a receiver runs and he catches the ball. Now you’ve got to try and tackle him, so they’re both very elusive and tough in space, so it’s going to be tough.

“If I’m in the deep middle I’m not going to be two yards [off the line of scrimmage], but even trying to get on that 10 yards is going to be tough. It’s something that we talk about a lot in the secondary of trying to be a good secondary tackling team, trying to get all four or five of us that’s on the field, if a run breaks through getting as many guys to the runner and trying to get him down.”

And McCourty said don’t expect the Patriots to go overboard trying to fool Matt Ryan with different looks. Ryan was 34-of-54 for 421 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a Patriots’ 30-23 win back on Sept. 29, 2013 in Atlanta.

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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Devin McCourty, Matt Ryan, New England Patriots



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