HOUSTON — The New England Patriots coaches talked all week about how explosive Atlanta’s offense was. Everyone else saw it first hand Sunday night in the first half of the Super Bowl at NRG Stadium.

The Falcons moved out to a stunning 21-3 halftime lead over the favored Patriots by using their team speed and big plays – on both sides of the ball.

After a scoreless first quarter, Matt Ryan got the Falcons in gear following a fumble by New England’s LeGarrette Blount at the Atlanta 29. On the next four plays, the Falcons gained 19, 23, 15 and 9 yards, setting up a 5-yard touchdown run by Devonta Freeman on which he made a cut to his left and found no defenders between him and the end zone.

The Falcons forced a punt on New England’s next series and took over at their own 38. First down was a 24-yard pass to Taylor Gabriel. That was followed by an 18-yard pass to Julio Jones, and the Falcons were at the New England 20.

On third-and-9, Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper for a touchdown that made it 14-0.

The Patriots then had a nice drive going, but Tom Brady was intercepted by Robert Alford, who returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0 with 2:21 left in the half. That was the second-longest interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.

It was also Brady’s 31st career playoff interception, setting an NFL record. He was tied with Brett Favre.

WITH HIS first snap, Brady set a record for most Super Bowls played, his seventh. He was tied with Mike Lodish, an offensive lineman who appeared in four with the Buffalo Bills and two with the Denver Broncos.

WIDE RECEIVER Michael Floyd was among the Patriots’ inactive players, meaning rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who has been dealing with a knee issue since Christmas Eve, was on the active roster for New England.

New England’s other inactive players were quarterback Jacoby Brissett, running back D.J. Foster, cornerbacks Justin Coleman and Cyrus Jones, safety Jordan Richards and offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle.

Jones’ absence meant Julian Edelman was the punt returner and Dion Lewis was the kickoff returner.

Brissett came out in full uniform to warm up, throwing passes along with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo. Normally, only the two active quarterbacks warm up, but the Patriots wanted to give Brissett some exposure to the Super Bowl atmosphere.

For the Falcons, the inactive players were wide receiver Nick Williams, running back Terron Ward, defensive backs Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dashon Goldson, linebacker Josh Keyes, offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer and tight end D.J. Tialavea.

JIMMY SMITS, one of the star’s of the new Fox show “24 Legacy,” was asked who he was rooting for while in a hotel elevator Sunday morning. “Lady Gaga,” he replied.

Smits’ show, which premiered after the Super Bowl, is being filmed in Atlanta.

SUPER BOWL shares for the Patriots are $107,000. Falcons players will receive $53,000.

Combined with their shares from the divisional round and the conference championship games, Patriots players earned $183,000 in bonus money.

The Falcons players earned $129,000.

That’s a far cry from the first Super Bowl (which wasn’t even called the Super Bowl). Players on the winning Green Bay Packers in 1967 received $15,000, and Kansas City Chiefs players received $7.500.

It stayed that way until Super Bowl XII, when the winners (Dallas) received $18,000 and the losers (Denver) got $9,000.

The bonus has steadily increased over the years, and last year Denver became the first team whose players received more than $100,000. The Broncos each got $102,000.

The members of New England’s first Super Bowl championship team in 2001 each received $63,000.

The Patriots’ back-to-back championship teams in 2003 and 2004 each received $68,000. Then, two years ago, the Patriots each received $97,000.

PATRIOTS DEFENSIVE END Chris Long and his father, Howie, joined a list of 16 other families who have had a father and a son play in the Super Bowl. Howie, now and in-studio analyst for Fox, played for the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII.

Chris Long signed as a free agent with New England after eight playoff-less years with the Rams.

Interestingly, the Patriots have several other father-son combinations, including special teams captain Matthew Slater (XLVI, XLIX, LI) and his father Jackie (XIV); defensive end Julius Adams (XX) and his son Keith, a linebacker for Philadelphia (XXXIX); and running back Mosi Tatupu (XX) and his son Lofa, a linebacker for Seattle (XL).

UP NEXT: Next year’s Super Bowl will be played in Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.

Super Bowl LIII will be in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Feb. 3, 2019.

It will be the third time Atlanta has hosted a Super Bowl, and the second time in Minnesota.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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