Raiders

Falcons' first or Brady's fifth? Patriots favored in Super Bowl LI

Falcons' first or Brady's fifth? Patriots favored in Super Bowl LI

HOUSTON -- Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are at home in Houston, where they won Super Bowl XXXVIII, and accustomed to the NFL's biggest stage.

The Atlanta Falcons are in their second Super Bowl and strive to secure the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history on Sunday in Super Bowl LI.

"It is a great privilege to be here and represent the AFC in this game," Belichick said of preparing for his 10th Super Bowl, including three as an assistant coach. "It is where you want to be at the end of the year. We are here this year. We are proud to be here."

The Falcons, in head coach Dan Quinn's second year, rode the NFL's highest-scoring offense (33.8 points per game) to the top of the NFC. The trophy on the line Sunday is the hardware that matters, but Atlanta's achievements already include offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan being named assistant coach of the year and Matt Ryan as offensive player of the year. The MVP award was handed out Saturday night, and Ryan won as expected.

Belichick and the Patriots are hailed for finding ways to eliminate the top playmakers of the opposition, but choosing where to start with Atlanta is no easy decision.

Wide receiver Julio Jones averaged 17 yards per reception and will command extra attention, Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan said, but the Falcons also thrived in the running game. As the only team to start all five offensive linemen in every game this season, there's cohesion around big-ticket free agent addition Alex Mack. Mack was the top-rated run blocker in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and Atlanta's running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman averaged more than 170 yards from scrimmage in 2016.

Jones said he will likely play "everywhere" in the formation to dictate matchups, but the Patriots just shut down Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown in the AFC title game despite the Pittsburgh Steelers establishing that hide-and-seek approach to formation changes.

"I don't think there's much Bill and his staff hasn't seen before," Shanahan said. "They've seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone. The main thing is giving your players confidence going into the game knowing that when we do see what they're doing, you give our players the ability to adjust for us to go in a number of difference directions. They're as good as it gets, so we know it'll be a huge challenge, something that we're working at just like they are. When the game starts, it's going to come down to trying to put our guys in good position and enjoy watching them go."

The Patriots are plotting how to handle Ryan, which starts with making him uncomfortable in the pocket. Quinn said turnovers -- a major issue in the Falcons' nosedive from a 5-0 start in 2015 -- might decide the game. But he also believes the defense that grabs the advantage early will also have a big edge.

Atlanta's front five isn't bulletproof. Ryan, a pocket passer, was heavily pressured in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles in the regular season -- film the Patriots have no doubt reviewed in their two weeks of preparation. New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said the risk in sending an extra body to make Ryan move from his launch point is that approach leaves Coleman and Freeman open in space, where they've been destructive.

"They do an unbelievable job of making guys either miss in open space, whether it's tackling or in your approach angles," Patricia said. "Their vision that they run with is phenomenal. What's great is when they get them out of the backfield, the passing game -- great for them, not for me -- is trying to defend them. They run receiver routes, the quarterback trusts them to get the ball to them very quickly."

Quinn was defensive coordinator of the Seahawks two years ago in Glendale, Ariz., when the Patriots beat Seattle with a dramatic interception at the goal line from cornerback Malcolm Butler. But the memorable plays from that game to Quinn were Brady piling up completions with ease in the second half, including what proved to be the game-winning score to wide receiver Julian Edelman in the final minute.

Quinn's defense was 27th in the NFL in points allowed and starts four rookies, which could be viewed as blood in the water for Brady, who is one win from setting the modern-day record with five Super Bowl wins.

"When you have this many young guys feeling their way and making strides quickly -- that's the most important thing -- we don't really look at the risk side of things," Quinn said. "They wouldn't be in there if they weren't ready. They've earned it."

Brady said he will not be motivated by any grudge against commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in Deflategate. In 12 games this season, Brady was sacked just 15 times and had a TD-to-INT ratio of 28-12. Against Atlanta, a defense built on speed, the Patriots could install an extra offensive lineman or tight end and play power football to force the Falcons to adjust.

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount averaged 3.9 yards per carry and had 18 touchdowns on 299 carries.

"Tom Brady is a future Hall of Fame quarterback. It's hard to stop a guy like that that knows defenses," Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "He's seen it all. The thing that we have to do is rattle him and make sure he's not comfortable in the pocket.

"We know in this league that the ball comes out 2.4, 2.5 (seconds) 90 percent of the time, so any way we can affect him by getting our hands up, or getting a hit and getting him rattled, anything we can do to disrupt him is going to be great for us."

Donald Penn yet to report as Raiders return home

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AP

Donald Penn yet to report as Raiders return home

ALAMEDA – Raiders left tackle Donald Penn missed training camp holding out for a new, more lucrative contract. He missed Tuesday’s practice, the first back at the team’s training facility.

His protest began 26 days ago. The regular season is 19 days away.

Penn has worked out with top trainers and private offensive line coaches while away from the team, but still needs time to get back in the flow.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that Penn is expected back this week. He wasn’t there for the first of three sessions when the Raiders will focus on the third preseason game at Dallas. It’s the last meaningful exhibition, with players down on the depth chart expected to populate the preseason finale versus Seattle.

Penn doesn’t necessarily need to play in a preseason game to prep for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener at Tennessee, but it could help.

Head coach Jack Del Rio wouldn’t address Penn’s status, or whether there’s a deadline for him to report and be ready for the regular season.

The Raiders have managed with Marshall Newhouse on the left and Vadal Alexander on the right. The pair has fared well, though the line will be significantly stronger with Penn back and a Newhouse/Alexander competition on the right.

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie made it clear weeks ago that the Raiders wouldn’t talk contract until a player reports. Penn preferred a contract get done before showing up. Weeks were lost to that impasse.

Quarterback Derek Carr hopes it will end soon, and that Penn will come back to the team.

“It would obviously mean a lot, if that’s what he chooses to do,” Carr said. “He’s our teammate. We want all our teammates here. We want to work hard together. We want to be together and joke together. It’s more than just football. We want to be there in his life, with him.

"It would mean a lot. Obviously, I would love it.”

If McGregor beats Mayweather, Raiders may move to Dublin

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AP

If McGregor beats Mayweather, Raiders may move to Dublin

So Las Vegas’ army of legal books are in a moderate panic because they are so overexposed with Conor McGregor bets. Apparently, other than the Maloof brothers, they can’t scare up any Mayweather money at all.

Maybe this is the secret reason Mark Davis has declared publicly that the Raiders intend to colonize Los Angeles.

The latest evidence of the books’ distress is this Big Lead headline, which subtly hints, “Vegas Sportsbooks Are Exposed Like Never Before, Will Be Decimated if Conor McGregor Beats Floyd Mayweather.”

Well, if McGregor wins (and you’ll have to tell me about it because I’d rather watch feet sweat in the noonday sun than this), gambling in Vegas apparently will not exist any longer because the sporting apocalypse will finally be upon us. And if there is no gambling in Vegas, there is no Vegas, and all of a sudden the Raiders are moving to a town whose mayor is an iguana and whose chamber of commerce is tumbleweeds.

Hence, Davis’ answer to a question from Los Angeles Daily News writer Vincent Bonsignore about how L.A. has always been a Raiders’ town and that the team will get lots of its fans from the basin – fans who apparently cannot stomach either the Rams or the Chargers.

Ignoring Davis’ folly of answering that question that way at this time, when the NFL itself is wondering if, for its financial purposes, the mayor of L.A. is an iguana and the chamber of commerce is tumbleweeds, this news reminds us that the league has managed in less than two years to ruin the second-largest market in the United States by dithering, by backroom deals, by aversion of money spent by “the wrong kind of people” (see “brown”). That level of chaos is to be appreciated and enjoyed for what it is – nature’s way of telling rich people who’s boss.

Now, if nature doubles down and figures a way to make McGregor win and break Vegas, maybe the entire down isn’t destroyed but instead becomes a colony of Ireland, where the prime minister is not an iguana but a human, and the closest thing to tumbleweeds is a Guinness brewery.

Maybe if that happens, the Raiders end up playing in Dublin instead (a delightful little asterisk since there was a perfectly good Dublin not far from Oakland to begin with) – and they spend their entire time complaining that they have to share Croke Park and that there are too many markings on the field from all those damned hurling matches.

Of course this isn’t likely to happen, and Vegas keeps taking all the McGregor money you can throw at it. But one of these times, and sooner than we think, the apocalypse is not going to take no for an answer, and you will see Mark Davis with a pipe stuck bowl downward in his mouth standing next to a pot of gold.

Which of course will belong to the Bank Of America, because there are some things even the apocalypse can’t beat.