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Reporters' Notebook

Bill Belichick's Shanahan flashbacks; Mohamed Sanu's arm

As Super Bowl week rolls on,'s reporters get you up to speed with the hottest news and notes about the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots as they get set to do battle in Houston, including:

» Dan Quinn's dedication to routine.

» Mohamed Sanu's hidden talent.

But first, is it 2017 or 2005? ...

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HOUSTON -- Preparing for the explosive Falcons offense is like taking a trip back in time for Bill Belichick, to a recent past that wasn't so friendly to the Patriots.

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's father, Mike, went 5-3 against Belichick as a head coach. Belichick said previously that no NFL coach was better at game-planning and creating problems for defenses, especially with mid-game adjustments. When Belichick looks at this Falcons offense, he sees many similarities in Kyle's offense to those old Broncos teams.

"The stretch play is a big part of the offense," Belichick explained. "They do a good job with play-action, which Mike always did. A lot of positive plays, not a lot of penalties, not a lot of turnovers. They always seemed to be in control offensively, don't lose a lot of yardage. They don't make a lot of mistakes. They make you go out there and stop them. I think I said a lot of the same things about Mike."

In many ways, the Shanahans are the offensive counterparts to Belichick. They are masters at seeing what a defense does, changing on the fly and adjusting. Falcons center Alex Mack and Shanahan both noted that Belichick has seen it all and will inevitably throw new wrinkles at them. Then again, they both stressed that worrying about their own execution was more important. After all, this is a game where both offenses should have an advantage.

Both defenses have sounded this week like they are underdogs, ready to prove people wrong.

"(Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady is a guy who knows exactly what defense you are in," Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said Thursday. "You can try to disguise it, you can try to do it all, but he has seen it all. He has seen every defense. What you really have to do is compete with his guys on the outside, compete with his running backs."

Both defenses also sounded like they just hoped to contain the opposition, because stopping Matt Ryan or Brady is impossible. Cornerback Jalen Collins spoke Thursday about the dangers of overthinking on the field against Brady because the Patriots have so little consistency in game plans week-to-week. Falcons coach Dan Quinn kept it simpler.

"Just got to be physical," Quinn said. "Go right at them. You can't try to finesse anything. You have to be physical and go right at them."

Pairing a great offense with a good enough situational defense has essentially been the Patriots' formula for the last decade. Both teams in this Super Bowl fit that profile, and it's one reason why even Belichick sounds like he's facing an uphill battle on defense.

"They've had so much success with what they're doing, they're going to keep doing it but make it hard for the defense to recognize this is the play, and by the time you recognize it, the play is over," Belichick said. "You know, they're spotting the ball, and it's like, 'Aw, that's what it was.' "

The defense that does a better job recognizing plays before it's too late on Sunday, especially in the red zone, should win a contest featuring two MVP-candidate quarterbacks at the top of their game.

And now, the rest of Thursday's notes from's reporters:

Quinn locking things down. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn told me that his team is sticking to and maintaining its routine this Saturday. The Falcons are not changing hotels. There are no guest speakers. They don't believe they need any outside sources to motivate their team. They have been self-motivated all season and will stick to that process. And to further avoid any distractions, the Falcons have complete exclusivity at the Westin Hotel in Memorial City. Not even the families of players or coaches are staying at the same hotel.

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No quit in that hoodie: Bill Belichick has done it all in the NFL. Set to turn 65 in April, it's inevitable that the celebrated Patriots coach will be asked about his future.

Specifically, retirement -- and whether that might come next if Belichick nets the franchise's fifth Lombardi Trophy with a New England win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft told The Washington Post this week that "he knows and I know" when Belichick will walk away, confirming: "He won't be done this year."

Belichick was asked Thursday by a scribe "if it's at all difficult for you to envision a life without that rhythm of the NFL calendar year?"

"I haven't really thought about it, to be honest with you, and right now, it's all focus on this game," Belichick said. "I'm not really thinking about next year, I'm not really thinking about last year, I'm thinking about Sunday night, and between now and then what I can do to help our team, so that's certainly where it's at."

Were you expecting anything else?

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Tommy doesn't know, either:Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked a similar query with a twist. Who do you think will retire first: You or Bill?

"That's a good question. I don't know what he plans on doing," Brady said before seamlessly veering into a hailstorm of Patriots Speak.

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Marty being Marty: Brady's final press conference of the week included a surprise visit from a teammate: Martellus Bennett.

The Patriots tight end surprised Brady in the middle of an answer, saying in a stilted voice, "Hi, Tom!"

"Go to sleep, Marty," Brady quipped.

Asked later about the value Bennett has brought to the Patriots this season -- on and off the field -- Brady didn't hold back.

"I think with Marty, football is absolutely No. 1," Brady said. "He has a high football IQ. I have so much respect for Marty to come into a different organization -- and he came in right at OTAs -- didn't miss any practices, all through training camp he's been available, every game this season he's played several different positions, and he's practiced every day, too. I wouldn't say he's feeling great at this point, in terms of his body, but he's fought through it. He's got a lot of mental toughness."

Added Brady: "He's obviously got a great personality. He's got a lot of life to him, so we in the locker room love that."

Asked to retell a few of Bennett's favorite jokes, Brady quickly confirmed: "I don't think they're appropriate for this room."

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Could Sanu let it rip? We know that teams tend to reach into the bag of tricks during the Super Bowl, and one possibility for the Falcons could come from the arm -- not hands -- of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.

Sanu, who caught 59 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, is a former high school quarterback who has stepped into that role from time to time in the NFL. He's completed five of five pass attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns in his pro career, though all of those throws came with the Bengals. Sanu hasn't thrown a pass since 2014.

Sanu told me Thursday that he hasn't thrown a pass with the Falcons, whom he joined as a free agent in March, all season. Not surprisingly, he was coy as to whether the team has been working on a few plays with him throwing the ball. What he did say is that the Falcons' receivers simply are preparing for a physical game from New England's secondary. He said it's hard to replicate the physicality of things, since they are not practicing in pads, but they will be prepared, since they've played so many teams that have tried to be rough with them.

"The thing is, it's all about us," said Sanu, who has nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns this postseason. "We're not worried about what they are going to do. The focus is on us. It's how it's been all season."

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Fine with it: On the Around The NFL Podcast, we've openly wondered what Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount must think of his rather aggressive nickname: BLOUNT FORCE TRAUMA.

With him sitting a few feet away, I asked him.

"That's my closing line," Blount said. "I know all about it."

"You good with it?" I asked.


Case closed.

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