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Super Bowl scene-setting from Houston: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick look to make Super Bowl history 02.05.17 at 3:11 pm ET
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The scene inside NRG Stadium, hours before kickoff for Super Bowl LI. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

HOUSTON — The moment is finally here for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – and the New England Patriots.

Their shot at Super Bowl history comes this afternoon on the turf of NRG Stadium in Houston where the Patriots aim for their fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history against the upstart NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

On a warm, humid day in Houston, conditions inside the 71,000-seat retractable-roof facility will be ideal as the Patriots look to join the 49ers and Cowboys for the second-most Vince Lombardi trophies. Pittsburgh sits atop the mountain with six in the Super Bowl era.

The 49ers won their five in 14 seasons from 1981-94. With a win, the Patriots would claim their fifth in 16 seasons from 2001-16.

Belichick would surpass Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl wins with his fifth while Brady would break a tie with his childhood hero Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. All three quarterbacks own four Super Bowl rings.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported Sunday morning that the Patriots believe Brady when he says he has a desire to play 3-5 more seasons, and at a high level. Rapoport reported that the team would pursue a contract extension after the 2017 season, making it more likely they trade backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason. Garoppolo has been rumored to be atop the wish list of the Cleveland Browns this offseason.

Another story that broke Sunday morning was the news that the Patriots wanted to trade Jamie Collins to the Texans for DeAndre Hopkins in October before settling on the deal that landed the former Patriots star linebacker in Cleveland.

There are injuries on both side of the ball worth monitoring early on. The more serious appears to be with the Falcons. Starting Pro Bowl center Alex Mack is dealing with a chip fracture of the fibula in his left leg. The Falcons believe he can start and play effectively but head coach Dan Quinn admitted Thursday that there is a good level of concern about how it would hold up. Likely, it will come down to pain threshold. Julio Jones is battling a toe injury but said this week he expects to be full go for the game. Both players were limited all week but will start in the game.

For the Patriots, Alan Branch had his toe stepped on in the first practice of the week on Wednesday. A day later Branch said the toe was “a little sore” but that he was feeling good and should be fine in the game. Another defensive lineman could be more of a concern as rookie Vincent Valentine had back pain on Thursday and was limited the last two practices. Valentine also had back issues early in the season. He is expected to be available.

Then there’s Martellus Bennett. Like Alex Mack, the Patriots tight end has been dealing with a bone chips in his right ankle since suffering the injury against the Browns on Oct. 9. He will likely have a procedure once the season is over. As he has been throughout the playoffs, he will play through the pain for the Super Bowl.

Chris Price has the complete scouting report and breakdown of Super Bowl LI while Ryan Hannable has 51 fun facts to consider going into the game.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI
Carl Banks breaks down exactly how Bill Belichick will approach the Falcons: ‘I think you’ll see more in coverage’ 02.03.17 at 2:48 pm ET
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Sep 20, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks speaks on stage during half time ceremony honoring the 25th anniversary of their championship at MetLife Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks played for Bill Belichick in two Super Bowls. (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

HOUSTON — Expect the unexpected.

That’s been the theme of Bill Belichick defenses in the Super Bowl against high-powered offenses.

As defensive coordinator of the Giants in Super Bowl XXV against the “K-Gun” Buffalo Bills, he featured a defensive line of just two players and dared the Bills to run Thurman Thomas while his linebackers and defensive backs were beating up on Andre Reed and James Lofton. The plan produced a 20-19 win, a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and earned Belichick his first head coaching job in Cleveland the next season.

In Super Bowl XXXVI, he assigned Willie McGinest to trail all-purpose back Marshall Faulk and beat him up as much as possible to take him out of the passing game as much as possible. Meanwhile, he played bump-and-run coverage on Issac Bruce, Az Hakim and Tory Holt. That produced the first Patriots Super Bowl win, 20-17, and kicked off an unprecedented dynasty in the modern NFL that continues today.

So now, 15 years later, Belichick has another huge task – coming up with a plan to contain Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu while keeping tabs on running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Carl Banks was a Pro Bowl linebacker on Belichick’s two Giants teams that won Super Bowls. He has a unique perspective on exactly what Belichick might be planning this time around.

“I think it’s just basically he’s just going to focus on assignment football, fundamentals,” Banks told WEEI.com Friday. “That’s the probably the first thing he addressed. And then he goes in and shows how his team could be hurt by their key players.

“Everyone talks about Belichick taking everyone’s best player away. Well, I think their players take the best player away, and I think that’s going to be the key this time because when you have a player who’s sometimes better than the defense the you’re playing against them, it really comes down to fundamentals at that point.”

How will Belichick pick and choose who to take away Sunday?

“He won’t. He’ll put his defense in place and it’s really going to come down to making tackles. It’s fundamentals because playing assignments and playing fundamentals is what really will help them curtail their best players. You’ve got to make tackles.”
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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, Carl Banks, New England Patriots
Devin McCourty won’t be making a show during Super Bowl LI national anthem at 12:38 pm ET
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HOUSTON — Devin McCourty knows there’s a time and place for everything.

The veteran Patriots safety, appearing in his third Super Bowl Sunday, believes this is not the time to make a political statement.

In light of the recent demonstrations against President’s Trump immigration orders, celebrities like Lady Gaga have indicated that they would like to see some sort of statement of inclusion during the Super Bowl.

Lady Gaga, an outspoken opponent of the President, indicated that she would be making the same statement during her 13-minute halftime show that she has been making all along.

During the preseason, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a firestorm by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of what he felt was discrimination against Muslims and unfair treatment of minorities by police.

Several other players in the NFL, as well as other sports, followed with statements of their own. McCourty and Martellus Bennett raised their fists during the national anthem in the regular season opener in Arizona.

The Celtics locked arms together in unity during the national anthem in a preseason game against Philadelphia at UMass.

But McCourty said Thursday he will not be making any such statements on Sunday.

“Nah. I did that for a reason,” McCourty said. “I didn’t do it all season so I wouldn’t do it now. It was to get a point across. I was able to talk it and spread that word and do different things with that. I think it was good a learning experience for me to be able to speak out on something I felt passionate about.”

What did McCourty take from the experience in September?

“I was actually about to speak with some officers and do different things like that in Boston,” McCourty added. “I thought it was a great thing. Myself, Marty and other teammates getting involved with being able to learn different aspects of life and what other people go through. It was a good experience.”

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Devin McCourty, Lady Gaga, New England Patriots
Tom Brady doesn’t know how long Bill Belichick will coach, adds ‘there’s no B.S. with Coach Belichick’ 02.02.17 at 11:14 pm ET
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HOUSTON — The subject of how long Bill Belichick might coach has become a hot topic in the last few days of Super Bowl week.

The story broke on Wednesday in the Washington Post that Patriots owner Robert Kraft knows how long Belichick might want to coach the Patriots but said that information will remain between the owner and the coach.

Then on Thursday, Belichick, when asked point blank if he’s given thought about his coaching future, said he’s focused only on the game with the Falcons Sunday.

Minutes later, at the same podium, Tom Brady was asked who might retire first, Belichick or the quarterback?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know what he plans on doing,” Brady said. “He’s the best, and I’ve been very lucky to play for him. He’s so focused on coaching and doing anything he can to help us win. There’s no B.S. with Coach Belichick, and I think that’s what players appreciate. When you come into the program, you realize it’s all about football and it’s not a bunch of ra-ra crap that’s not going to matter and has no bearing on preparing you for the game, but it’s just coaches screaming louder and louder and thinking that’s going to emphasize some certain point.

“I think Coach does a great job of every week putting the urgency on the team and making us understand that we’re going up against a very competitive team that could beat us if we don’t play the way that we should play. Every week, he’s so consistent, and I think that’s a great thing for us as players is to have a leader like that who brings it every day. Whether that’s April or whether that’s early February, his attitude is the same.

“He’s trying to do and coach the best way that he can in order to get us to go out there and execute at the highest level possible. I love it. He’s certainly a disciplinarian, so in that sense, it’s great because when you’re the quarterback and you coach does that for you, I don’t really have to do any of those things. I can be just like one of those other guys. I’m yelled at just like everybody else, but it’s nice to feel, especially in my 17th year, that I am one of the guys because I think that’s ultimately the best thing for our team. He certainly takes the lead and we all fall in line.”

Brady went in depth as to why he and Belichick have gotten along so well over their historic 17-year run.

“His style, I think, is very conducive to just getting the best out of me, so I think it’s a good fit,” Brady said. “I probably don’t take compliments very well is something you guys probably know covering us, and he doesn’t give very many compliments out. I think in that sense, he coaches us hard. There’s some throws that I make and you throw it 50 yards downfield and hit the guy in stride, and I’m like, ‘Damn, that was a pretty good throw.’ And I’ll look back at him and he’ll be looking for the next play. That’s just his style. He has a very high level of expectation. He’ll say all the time, ‘I hope my expectation for you guys isn’t better or more than your expectation for yourself.’ I think those types of things really challenge us as players to be at our best every single day, to never take these opportunities for granted and to try to keep reaching a higher level as the season goes.”

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Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI
Bill Belichick has ‘all the respect in the world’ for Julio Jones at 10:21 pm ET
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HOUSTON — Bill Belichick had nothing but glowing things to say about Julio Jones in the final media availability before Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Going into the biggest game of the season, Belichick wasn’t about to revisit the history of his advice to current Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff not to draft the receiver out of Alabama in the 2011.

That story was detailed in Michael Holley’s book “War Room“.

To review, the Falcons essentially mortgaged the future to move up to No. 6 in 2011 in a blockbuster trade with Cleveland. Dimitroff dealt their No. 27 overall selection, their second and fourth-round picks in that same draft and their first and fourth picks in 2012.

Belichick wasn’t in the mood for going down memory lane Thursday.

“I think I’ve said it many times. Julio Jones is a tremendous player,” Belichick said. “He does everything well, plus he brings an element of toughness to that position that I would say is extremely high. He is big, strong, fast, catches the ball well, runs well after the catch and he blocks.”

This season, Jones had 83 catches, 1,409 yards and career-best 17 yards-per-catch average to go with six touchdowns.

To Belichick’s point, he used two players in practice Thursday to simulate the energy and competitiveness Jones brings on every play. Why?

“That’s such a key guy for us, the routes and all that,” Belichick told USA Today pool reporter Jarrett Bell. “We have two guys doing it so we won’t wear one guy out. You’ve got to know where he is on every play.”

About an hour later in his press conference, Belichick reiterated his respect.

“He is a very competitive tough player and I have all the respect in the world for him,” Belichick said. “Again, I really don’t see any point in going back over that conversation. It was a long time ago and it doesn’t really have an application to what is going to happen on Sunday. But I have great respect for Julio Jones and I had a lot of conversations with Coach (Nick) Saban about Julio. Nothing but positive things about the player and from what I have observed the way that he plays and competes. He is one of the top players in the league.”

As for Jones, who led the NFL in 2015 with 136 catches and 1,871 yards, he is just looking forward to the game Sunday.

“The next three days for me – we’re going to go to practice and we’re going to practice hard,” Jones said Thursday. “I’m not going to make anything up as far as my routine. It’s just one day at a time. I’m not looking forward to Sunday right now like, ‘It’s Sunday! Sunday!’ It’s just one day at a time. I have to put the work in to be where I want to be at on Sunday.”

Has he ever spoken with Belichick?

“No I haven’t had any communication at all with Bill Belichick, but you can see he’s a great head coach.”

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, Julio Jones, New England Patriots
Mike Petraglia recaps Bill Belichick’s respect for Julio Jones and Tom Brady on family night at 8:21 pm ET
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HOUSTON — Bill Belichick paid nothing but great respect to Falcons receiver Julio Jones and spoke of a spirited practice while Tom Brady laughed when asked if he has any idea if he or Bill Belichick will retire first. Mike Petraglia has the Thursday report from Patriots Super Bowl headquarters in Houston.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Bill Belichick, Julio Jones, Mike Petraglia
Vincent Valentine (back) added to Patriots Super Bowl LI injury report, 7 Patriots limited at 7:49 pm ET
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Vincent Valentine

Vincent Valentine

HOUSTON — Wednesday it was Alan Branch who turned up on the injury report during Super Bowl week. On Thursday, another Patriots defensive tackle appeared on the list.

Vincent Valentine, the rookie out of Nebraska who has played a bigger and bigger role as the season wore on, was listed as limited, along with the same six Patriots limited from Wednesday.

The Patriots will conduct their final practice on Friday at the University of Houston before going through a light walkthrough and meetings on Saturday.

As for Branch, he told reporters that the toe that was stepped on Wednesday in practice is “a little sore” but he expects to be fully ready to go come Sunday.

Nate Ebner (concussion) was again limited participation. Danny Amendola, Jabaal Sheard and Brandon Bolden were all removed from the report on Wednesday.

Here is the complete Patriots injury report for Thursday.

LIMITED PARTICIPATION

ST Nate Ebner (concussion)
DT Alan Branch (toe)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
DT Vincent Valentine (back)

Read More: Alan Branch, Atlanta Falcons, New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI
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