Patriots enjoy big Super Bowl experience edge over Eagles

Leave a comment

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) The Eagles are playing some of their best football heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup with the Patriots.

One thing Philadelphia can’t contend with is New England’s huge experience advantage in the big game.

On the 53-man active roster the Patriots brought to Minnesota, 32 players have a combined 60 games of Super Bowl experience.

Tom Brady alone has been to the Super Bowl seven times during his 18-year career, winning five.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

By comparison, the Eagles have seven players on their active roster who’ve won a Super Bowl. Two of those players, LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long, won their rings last season with the Patriots. The others are Torrey Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Dannell Ellerbe and Will Beatty. An eighth player, Chris Maragos, is on injured reserve with a knee injury.

It’s a huge gulf. By comparison, the 2015 Panthers that lost to the Broncos in the Super Bowl that season had three players who had won a ring: Ed Dickson (Baltimore), Roman Harper (New Orleans) and Michael Oher (Baltimore).

But the Patriots say it’s nothing they will spend time talking about this week.

“I think it’s overrated,” said special teams captain Matt Slater, who will be appearing in his fourth Super Bowl.

Defensive end Trey Flowers said the coaching staff hasn’t mentioned last year’s Super Bowl win since it came up in film study prior to their regular-season meeting with Atlanta back in October.

“It’s a brand new team, so I wouldn’t say last year’s experience will have anything to do with the outcome of this game,” Flowers said. “This team has a lot of different guys from a year ago, so it’s something you’ve got to do all over again as far as experience goes.”

Yes and no.

New England actually returns 31 players who were on last year’s Super Bowl roster against the Falcons. That doesn’t include injured linebacker Dont'a Hightower or receiver Julian Edelman.

Two of the Patriots’ additions since then both played in the Super Bowl with other teams. Linebacker James Harrison won two rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois played on the San Francisco 49ers team that came up short against Baltimore in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2012 season.

“We know what to expect, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to perform,” linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. “So there’s really no upper hand. You’ve got to just play the game and get ready for it and play at a high level.”

He said that is because there is respect across the board for what backup quarterback Nick Foles has accomplished since Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.

“Everyone wants to hate on Nick Foles, but he’s done a great job,” Van Noy said. “He’s still a high-caliber quarterback, like Carson Wentz. Nick Foles is a great quarterback who’s done a great job. They distribute the ball really well and their run game is at a high level.”

More than experience on either side, linebacker Elandon Roberts said the biggest challenge is not getting caught up in the emotions that come with playing in a Super Bowl.

“Obviously it’s all the marbles right here, but it’s everything you work for,” Roberts said. “So you’ve got to think back to what got you here: doing your job, not getting overwhelmed and what not. As long as we do that that takes away most of it.”

More AP NFL: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

Brees, defensive stand, help Saints survive Panthers, 31-26

Leave a comment

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees passed for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and the New Orleans Saints held off Carolina’s late comeback bid to seal a 31-26 victory in their NFC wild-card game on Sunday.

The Panthers had a first down on the Saints 26-yard line with 58 seconds left, but heavy pressure by All-Pro defensive end Cameron Jordan a couple plays later induced an intentional grounding penalty on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, making it third-and-25 on the Saints 34 and a required 10-second runoff left 22 seconds on the clock.

After an incompletion in the end zone on third down, Vonn Bell sacked Newton on a safety blitz, ensuring the Saints (12-5) swept all three meetings with Carolina (11-6) this season, in addition to winning their first playoff game in four seasons.

“We wanted it more,” Jordan said. “I mean they’ve been to their Super Bowl, let `em go to another one next year. We want our run.”

Brees’ touchdowns went for 80-yards to Ted Ginn and 9 yards to tight end Josh Hill. Fullback Zach Line and running back Alvin Kamara each ran for short touchdowns, the latter set up by Michael Thomas 46-yard reception.

Thomas caught eight passes for 131 yards on a day when the Saints needed the passing game to compensate for a ground game that struggled to get going.

Helped by the presence of tight end Greg Olsen – who did not play in the teams’ previous two meetings – Newton marched Carolina into Saints territory more often than not. But the Panthers stalled four times from inside the New Orleans 25, settling for four field goal attempts on those drives, one of which kicker Graham Gano surprisingly missed.

Olsen had eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Newton finished 24 of 40 passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns, the other a 56-yard scoring strike to Christian McCaffrey that pulled the Panthers within a touchdown with 4:09 left.

But Newton was also sacked four times, once each by Bell, Jordan, Jonathan Freeney, and David Onyemata. The sack by Onyemata came as Newton tried to spin away from Tyeler Davison and slammed his head into Onyemata’s chest. Newton was checked for a concussion, but missed only one play before returning to the game.

“We had to finish out the game and put it on our defense, put it on me, put it on our secondary, our D-line,” Jordan said. “I mean, everybody responded the way we were supposed to.”

Still, the Panthers were in striking distance for the win after a failed gamble by Saints coach Sean Payton, who elected to keep the offense on the field on fourth-and-short with two minutes remaining. He hoped to run out the clock on Carolina, which was out of timeouts. It backfired when Brees’ pass as he scrambled to his right was intercepted by Adams, giving Carolina the ball at its 31 with 1:51 to go.

“This win is special,” Jordan said. “They came back late in the fourth quarter, made this a game.”

INJURIES

Panthers: Newton missed one play – a failed third-and-long – while being evaluated for a concussion after Onyemata’s sack. Cornerback Daryl Worley briefly was placed in the concussion protocol but also cleared to return during the game.

Saints: Starting left guard Andrus Peat was carted off the field with a left shin injury. His replacement, Senio Kelemete, later needed help off the field for an undisclosed injury.

UP NEXT

Panthers: Begin their offseason.

Saints: Move on to play at Minnesota in the NFC Divisional playoffs.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Falcons clinch playoff spot, beat Panthers on Bryant’s 5 FGs

Leave a comment

ATLANTA (AP) Matt Bryant kicked five field goals, including a 56-yarder, for all of Atlanta’s second-half points and the Falcons clinched a playoff spot by beating the Carolina Panthers 22-10 on Sunday.

After the teams played to a 7-7 halftime tie, the 42-year-old Bryant kicked field goals of 30, 42, 30, 56 and 33 yards without a miss.

Atlanta (10-6) clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC and will play at the Los Angeles Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

On a day when Cam Newton and the Panthers’ offense struggled, Bryant’s 15 points provided a margin too great for Carolina to overcome.

The Panthers (11-5) had a playoff spot secured entering the weekend, but they couldn’t improve their position.

Minnesota’s 23-10 win over Chicago earlier Sunday ended the Panthers’ hopes of a first-round bye. The loss to the Falcons ended Carolina’s goal of winning the NFC South, and the Panthers will open the playoffs at New Orleans.

Matt Ryan completed 28 of 45 passes for 317 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown pass to Devonta Freeman on Atlanta’s opening drive, and no interceptions.

The Panthers pulled even on Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half.

Newton threw three second-half interceptions. The third interception, by Robert Alford in the end zone with 8 seconds remaining, ended the Panthers’ final drive. Newton completed 14 of 34 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

With the game tied in the third quarter, the Falcons had an apparent touchdown taken off the board when a review showed Mohamed Sanu didn’t maintain control of a 12-yard catch in the end zone. The ball hit the ground after Sanu collided with Julio Jones, who also was crossing to the middle of the end zone.

The Falcons settled for Bryant’s first 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.

Newton led the Panthers on a 16-play touchdown drive that consumed more than half of the second quarter and tied the game at 7. Newton gained the needed yard on a fourth-down keeper, but the true back-breaking play for Atlanta’s defense was his 27-yard pass to Brenton Bersin on a third-and-23 play. The pass set up Newton’s 4-yard scoring pass to Funchess.

SLOW START

Newton was 0 for 9 before finally completing his final seven passes of the first half. Newton completed his first pass to McCaffrey – for a loss of 3 yards – midway through the second quarter.

MILESTONE FOR JULIO

Jones caught a 14-yard pass midway through the third quarter to reach 9,000 career yards faster than any receiver since the 1970 merger.

The two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection last month set the league mark with the most catches and yards receiving in a receiver’s first 90 games.

Jones finished with five catches for 80 yards. He survived an injury scare after he took a big hit from Carolina strong safety Mike Adams on the opening drive. He returned to the field on the same drive, which ended with Ryan’s touchdown pass to Freeman.

NO STEWART

Running back Jonathan Stewart was due to back tightness. The Panthers also were without two more starters: safety Kurt Coleman (ankle), and right guard Trai Turner (concussion).

UP NEXT

Panthers: Carolina will play at New Orleans next week in the first round of the NFC playoffs.

Falcons: Atlanta will visit the Rams next week in the first round of the playoffs.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL