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Calm before the Super Bowl storm for Patriots, Falcons

By Larry Fine

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons enjoyed an easy day ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl, paying separate visits to NRG Stadium on Saturday to get acclimated with the site of the title game.

Both teams wrapped up their final on-field practices on Friday in good health and optimistic about their chances of lifting the Lombardi Trophy as National Football League champions.

The Patriots held a final 90-minute session at the University of Houston, running drills at half-speed without shells or shoulder pads under their jerseys.

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“We’re ready to go,” declared Patriots coach Bill Belichick, according to the pool report. “We’ve covered everything. We’ll finish off our meetings and stuff, but we’re done on the field.”

The Patriots planned to walk around the NRG Stadium field to get used to the surroundings and take a team picture.

Belichick said the Patriots hoped to put a stop to the high-scoring Atlanta Falcons' streak of touchdowns on their first possession in eight successive games.

“They are a fast-starting team, offensively,” Belichick said. “So we’ve got to do a good job of making sure we know what we’re doing.”

Quarterback Tom Brady had a typically sharp week of preparation, the coach said.

“He’s been in these games and big games before. Each week is different, every defense is different, our plays are different, based on what the defenses are. He had a good week,” said Belichick.

Brady, going after a record fifth crown among quarterbacks just as Belichick can register a record fifth title as a coach, has been emotional this week talking about his family as news emerged that his mother, Galynn, has battled an illness over the last 18 months.

Asked if his mother will be able to attend the game as initially planned, Brady said on Thursday: "I'm still hopeful. I'm not sure, but yeah, hopeful. That's a good word."

The Falcons, meanwhile, got a splendid red-zone performance from quarterback Matt Ryan in their chilly, breezy practice at Rice University, according to the pool report.

In some 20 minutes worth of plays from the 20-yard line and closer against a scout team defense, Ryan was perfect. Not one pass of his hit the ground.

"That’s Matt," coach Dan Quinn said after the 80-minute practice. "I am so pumped for him, the way he has worked. It is not surprising the offense feels so good about the plan and has practiced so clean."

Red zone efficiency is near the top of Atlanta's to-do list as the Patriots have been especially stingy from inside the 20, leading the NFL in fewest points allowed.

Players nursing injuries, including center Alex Mack, star receiver Julio Jones and pass-rusher Dwight Freeney all practiced on a limited basis and were expected to play on Sunday.

The Falcons planned to tour the NRG Stadium field and locker room before returning to Rice for a final walk-through session.

For an interactive graphic on the Patriots vs the Falcons click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NFL-SUPERBOWL/010031NZ3V9/index.html

For an interactive graphic on Super Bowl advertising click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NFL-SUPERBOWL-RATINGS/010031J13GP/index.html

(Editing by Andrew Both)

 
 
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