THIRD QUARTER: Falcons 28, Patriots 3

FALCONS’ SIXTH DRIVE (TOUCHDOWN): Atlanta WR Taylor Gabriel more than compensates for his drop on the previous drive, catching two passes for 52 yards, one a 35-yard completion from Matt Ryan to get the Falcons deep into New England territory. Gabriel also drew a drive-extending pass interference penalty from Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler. On the next play, RB Tevin Coleman, showcasing his game-breaking speed, finishes off the drive by collecting a pass in the flat and turning it into a 9-yard TD.

PATRIOTS’ SEVENTH DRIVE (punt): AFC Championship Game hero Chris Hogan drops a pass on what would have been a big gainer, then Julian Edelman does the same as New England goes three-and-out for a third time. The Falcons defense reminds one of Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts — not great statistically, but highly effective when staked to a lead … and then there’s that Dwight Freeney common denominator.

Fun fact: The Falcons punted a league-low 48 times this season, or three per game. Matt Bosher has already hit that average tonight.

FALCONS’ FIFTH DRIVE (punt): Not how Atlanta wanted to begin the second half as Matt Ryan’s third-down pass bounces off WR Taylor Gabriel’s chest, forcing a punt. But some rust could be expected after the Falcons offense waited more than an hour between possessions.

Fun fact: Matt Ryan has a 158.3 QB rating at halftime — perfect. Elite enough from the 2016 MVP?

Fun fact: Tom Brady has a 65.3 QB rating at halftime — his lowest in a Super Bowl is 82.5, New England’s Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants.


For the Patriots (by Lorenzo Reyes)

— The Falcons clearly have the speed to beat New England to the edge in the rushing game, and their play selection is reflecting that. Pats have to set the edge and not let Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman get into the open field. Atlanta has 86 rushing yards at the half.

— Atlanta may have taken a tip from the Houston Texans, who pressured Brady through the middle of New England’s offensive line. The Patriots need to do a better job of halting Atlanta’s pass rush, which has used stunts and has rushed primarily three and four defenders.

— The Patriots are playing right into Atlanta’s hands with their offense’s quick tempo. New England needs more from the rushing game to slow the game down. Fourteen carries for only 35 yards just isn’t going to do it, though an 18-point deficit may not give them much of a chance to find offensive balance at this point.

For the Falcons (by Lindsay H. Jones)

— It took until the second quarter for Atlanta to get star receiver Julio Jones involved. But once he caught his first pass, it changed the entire offense. If Jones can continue to beat the Patriots’ attempts at double coverage, Matt Ryan and Co. should find plenty of other mismatches.

— The Falcons had two first-half sacks and repeatedly pressured and hit quarterback Tom Brady, which got the Patriots offense out of rhythm and forced incomplete passes. Atlanta needs to continue to bring that pressure, both up the gut from linemen like Grady Jarrett, and with creative blitz packages.

— The Falcons have built one of the fastest teams in the NFL, and they need to keep using that advantage in the second half, especially with mismatches speedy rookie linebacker Deion Jones can create in the middle of the field. He had five tackles, one forced fumble and one pass break up in the first half.

END OF SECOND QUARTER: Falcons 21, Patriots 3

PATRIOTS’ SIXTH DRIVE (FIELD GOAL): The AFC champs salvage some points and avoid a first-half shutout on Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal, his 21st in a row. However Tom Brady is taking a beating and starting to miss open receivers even though the Falcons still continue to mostly rush just four and eschew the blitz. Atlanta will take possession to start the third quarter.

Fun fact: The Pats have never trailed by 14, much less 21, points in a Super Bowl, and no team has ever overcome a deficit of more than 10 points. New England’s average margin of victory in its four Super Bowl wins is just 3.3 points.

Fun fact: Teams that return an INT for a score are 12-0 in the Super Bowl, per NFL research.

PATRIOTS’ FIFTH DRIVE (PICK SIX): On a drive extended three times by defensive holding on third downs, the Falcons belatedly strike again when CB Robert Alford swipes a Tom Brady pass and returns it 82 yards for a TD. Atlanta now has 14 points off two New England giveaways.

FALCONS’ FOURTH DRIVE (TOUCHDOWN): Atlanta’s now dictating the tempo with rookie TE Austin Hooper snaring a 19-yard TD pass from Ryan, who’s 7-for-8 for 115 yards. Julio Jones, who made another 18-yard catch on a five-play, 62-yard drive is having a tremendous impact on the game — whether it’s his own gains, room created for the running game or single coverage for fellow pass catchers like Hooper. The Patriots may now have to go fully one-dimensional, which was deadly against Atlanta’s first two playoff conquests, the formidable Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

PATRIOTS’ FOURTH DRIVE (punt): Another fruitless drive for New England, which goes three-and-out for the second time. The Falcons dropped eight into coverage on third down, and it worked. With just 20 yards rushing, the Patriots aren’t getting it done on the ground.

FALCONS’ THIRD DRIVE (TOUCHDOWN): Atlanta capitalizes on the turnover. All-pro WR Julio Jones picks up 42 yards on his first two targets of the game (both catches), while Devonta Freeman continues to run through New England’s third-ranked run defense, capping the 71-yard, five play drive with a 5-yard scoring run. Freeman already has 71 yards on six carries. The last time the Patriots allowed a back to rush for 100 yards was Denver’s C.J. Anderson in Week 12 of the 2015 season, a game the Brock Osweiler-led Broncos won in overtime.

PATRIOTS’ THIRD DRIVE (fumble): A LeGarrette Blount kills a promising drive that saw Tom Brady and Julian Edelman hook up twice for 40 yards. The Patriots had not committed a turnovers in six of their previous eight games, and this kind of momentum killer is always dangerous against such evenly matched teams. Atlanta and New England tied for the fewest giveaways (11) in the regular season.

Fun fact: The last time the Patriots played a Super Bowl in Houston’s NRG stadium, following the 2003 season, the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers ended in a scoreless tie. The teams then went on to combine for 24 points in the second quarter.

END OF FIRST QUARTER: Patriots 0, Falcons 0

FALCONS’ SECOND DRIVE (punt): That’s three drives in a row ended by sacks. Atlanta is running the ball fantastically (56 yards on 5 attempts), but Matt Ryan has yet to complete a pass to Julio Jones or any of his receivers. Still, if the Falcons continue to gain yards in chunks, New England may to put another man in the box.

PATRIOTS’ SECOND DRIVE (punt): What began as a promising drive ends with consecutive sacks of Tom Brady (who was sacked 15 times in the regular season) by the Atlanta defense in what’s shaping up as an early battle of field posession. RB James White appears to be an important part of the game plan after largely taking a back seat to LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis in recent weeks. But Brady is taking a little longer to release the ball than normal against a very speedy defense that is covering decently so far.

FALCONS’ FIRST DRIVE (punt): Trey Flowers, New England’s leading sack man, snuffs Atlanta’s first possession with a sack of Matt Ryan. The Falcons had scored a touchdown on their opening possession in the last eight games. The last time they didn’t reach the end zone on their first drive was Nov. 13 in Philadelphia, a game the Falcons lost 24-15. Still, Devonta Freeman’s 37-yard run is a sign there will be ample room to operate if the Patriots are overly focused on Julio Jones.

PATRIOTS’ FIRST DRIVE (punt): New England starts the game with a three-and-out as RB LeGarrette Blount can’t pick up a first on third-and-1. Failed to opportunity to establish tempo with league’s best offense now taking possession.


The New England Patriots are in their record ninth Super Bowl. A win Sunday would make Tom Brady the first quarterback with five rings (breaking a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana), and Bill Belichick would surpass Chuck Noll as the first head coach to win the game five times.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons are trying to win the first championship of their 51-season history. To do it, newly minted MVP Matt Ryan must become the first player to win the hardware and the Super Bowl in the same season since Kurt Warner did it in 1999 (MVPs are 0-7 in Super Bowls since).

Fun stats

— The Falcons are only 4-4 this season when WR Julio Jones exceeds 100 receiving yards.

— The Falcons are 8-2 in their red jerseys this season.

— The Falcons have scored a TD on the opening drive of their past eight games.

— The Patriots are 17-0 when RB Dion Lewis plays (both his 2015 and 2016 seasons were interrupted by an ACL injury).

— The Patriots will wear white jerseys today. Teams in white  have won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls.

— The Patriots have 11 fumbles on kick/punt returns this season, the most of any team since 2006.

More pre-game coverage

— USA TODAY NFL staff predictions

— Tale of the tap

— Matchups to watch

— Scouting report

— FULL COVERAGE from Super Bowl week

PHOTOS: Super Bowl LI gallery