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    A number of Pro Bowlers are about to get paid. And not just the relative pocket change ($35,000 or $70,000) that comes with competing in the NFL’s annual all-star game in Orlando. About a dozen Pro Bowl players are pending free agents, including the NFL’s all-time leading passer and the league’s top rusher and top pass-rusher in 2019. They’ve been politically correct all week, insisting they want to remain with their current teams. But the reality is some of them surely will be elsewhere next season, making the Pro Bowl their final game in these helmets. Here’s a look at the most notable ones heading into Sunday’s Pro Bowl: Shaq Barrett, linebacker, Tampa Bay: After five pedestrian seasons in Denver, Barrett signed a one-year deal with the Buccaneers and led the NFL and broke the franchise’s single-season record with 19 ½ sacks. “I don’t know where it’s going to end up at, but I’m confident that I’m going to be where I should be, which I think is Tampa,” Barrett said. Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans: The NFL’s leader in passing yards (77,416) and touchdowns (547) has been noncommittal about 2020, but he did say “it’s the Saints or nothing.” “I don’t want to rush anything,” Brees added. “I have a process I’m going to go through. I’m going to separate myself from the game, spend some time with my family and see where I’m at.” Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee: He led the NFL in rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16) and played a pivotal role in the Titans’ playoff victories at New England and Baltimore. He carried 64 times for 377 yards and a touchdown in those games. Austin Hooper, tight end, Atlanta: After a career year with the Falcons in which he caught 75 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns, Hooper will be one of the most coveted tight ends in free agency. 'My whole attitude is that it will end up the way it's supposed to,' Hooper said. 'I did my part, ended up here at the Pro Bowl. If the organization wants me, they'll offer me. … As of now, I'm just enjoying what could be my last game as a Falcon down here at the Pro Bowl.' Matt Judon, linebacker, Baltimore: After notching 54 tackles, 9 ½ sacks and four forced fumbles, Judon will be one of the top pass-rushers on the market. 'It's a process that you can't stress over,' said Judon, who has 28 ½ sacks in four seasons. “I don't think there’s going to be no negatives really out of this situation. Everything's going to be a positive, and however it plays out, it will. And I think I'm going to be happy on the other side.' Andrus Peat, guard, New Orleans: He played under the fifth-year option in 2019 and was a Pro Bowl substitute for the second consecutive season. But he’s yet to play a full season, missing 15 games over five years. Matthew Slater, special teams ace, New England: The 34-year-old Slater made his eighth Pro Bowl this season and hopes to finish his career with the Patriots. He’s spent all 12 seasons with New England. “I've expressed publicly and privately to remain a Patriot for the entirety of my career and certainly I still feel that way,” Slater said. “We’ll see how it goes.” Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee: Replaced Marcus Mariota in October and helped the Titans make the AFC title game. He finished with 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions in 12 regular-season games. He added five TD passes and one pick in three postseason starts. Tennessee could use the franchise and transition tags to retain Tannehill and Henry. 'I'd like to be back,' Tannehill said. 'I love the organization and the team, but at the same time we've got to come to an agreement.” Marshal Yanda, guard, Baltimore: He’s not a free agent, but he’s considering retirement after 13 years with the Ravens. He has one year remaining on his contract, which would pay him $7 million in 2020. “I’m still processing and doing all that stuff,” Yanda said. “I’m enjoying the time out here with my family and we’ll see what happens.” The Pro Bowl itself also is a free agent. The NFL kept the all-star event in Orlando for a fourth year, but there has been speculation that a new host city could be on the horizon. Las Vegas' Allegiant Stadium and Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium open this year. Both multi-billion-dollar venues should be able to handle the Pro Bowl's week-long needs. “Vegas? Wooooooo-weeee,” Ravens safety Earl Thomas said. “It would definitely work in Vegas. That would be great. That would a great incentive.” ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • It has been a while since a Super Bowl has appeared to be such a toss-up. This one between the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers and the AFC champ Kansas City Chiefs is a difficult game to judge. The 49ers (15-3) have gone from the No. 2 pick in the draft last April to the verge of another championship. The Chiefs (14-4) were in the AFC title contest last year and fell in overtime. In 2019, both teams were dynamic and won a bunch of big games. Now they meet in the biggest one. Here's how the Chiefs and 49ers match up in the Super Bowl: WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL It's not difficult to figure out how the Chiefs will approach any game. QB Patrick Mahomes (15) will test defenses with his arm and skill for reading schemes. He has game-breakers in WRs Tyreek Hill (10) and Sammy Watkins (14), which means single coverage on either is a gamble. TE Travis Kelce (87) is a first-down machine and a clutch performer all around. Damien Williams (26) keys the backfield and comes off two exceptional postseason showings, even though Mahomes has often been the leading rusher by creating the way he did in the AFC championship game with a brilliant tap dance down the sideline for a go-ahead score. That puts a huge onus on the Niners to get an effective pass rush, something they have done virtually every week. They will harass Mahomes with a front seven led by rookie Nick Bosa (97), a force on the outside. DT DeForest Buckner (99) has had a strong impact, and LBs Fred Warner (54) and Kwon Alexander (56), who is finally healthy, are formidable. Having edge rusher Dee Ford (55), who was a Chief last season, bolsters the unit. They will challenge a good Kansas City offensive line anchored by RT Mitchell Schwartz (71) and LT Eric Fisher (72). But if the O-line holds true, San Francisco could struggle in coverage against the speedy Chiefs wideouts. CB Richard Sherman (25) remains outstanding, even if the rest of the secondary isn't at his level. WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL After seeing the star turn by RB Raheem Mostert (31) against Green Bay, the Chiefs must be wary of what usually is a three-pronged rushing attack. Tevin Coleman (26), if healthy, and Matt Breida (22) give QB Jimmy Garoppolo options in the backfield, although Mostert is certain to be the main man. They operate behind a veteran line led by LT Joe Staley (74) and second-year RT Mike McGlinchey, and Kyle Juszczyk (44) is the NFL's top fullback — as a blocker and receiver. If the Niners run the ball effectively, it could open some wide spaces for All-Pro TE George Kittle (85), the most dynamic offensive player they have. Kittle is a difference-maker who will force the Chiefs to use double coverage at times. S Tyrann Mathieu (32) will see a lot of Kittle, and S Daniel Sorensen (49), who has had a monstrous playoffs, will be in the mix. Covering WRs Emmanuel Sanders (17), Kendrick Bourne (84) and emerging rookie Deebo Samuel (19), who is fearless going over the middle, is another chore the Chiefs must handle well. That will require big-time contributions up front from Chris Jones (92) and Frank Clark (55) and LBs Anthony Hitchens (53) and Damien Wilson (54). SPECIAL TEAMS Kansas City has a dangerous kick returner in Mecole Hardman (19), one of the NFL's fastest players. The rookie does get antsy to return the ball, though, and that can lead to bad decisions. Harrison Butker (7) is a reliable placekicker with good range. He did miss three extra points, one fewer than his misses on field goals. Veteran punter Dustin Colquitt (2) had a kick blocked by the Texans for a TD, but he's generally reliable. So is San Francisco PK Robbie Gould (9), in his 15th pro season. He kicked in a Super Bowl for the Bears in 2007, so this stage won't unnerve him. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky is a mere pup in comparison, finishing off his first NFL season. Richie James ranked fifth in overall kick and punt returns for the 49ers, but isn't a game breaker like Kansas City has available. COACHING Kyle Shanahan, in his third year at the helm, took the 49ers from choosing second in the 2019 draft (Bosa was the prize) to their seventh Super Bowl. His versatile offense has been solid, and the defense under coordinator Robert Saleh has looked immovable at times. The front line is superb, and Saleh, like Shanahan, stays aggressive all game. That showed particularly in the past two weeks. Andy Reid lost in the Super Bowl with Philadelphia in 2005, and he has a better team now. He has been masterful in his handling of Mahomes and the schemes that make KC's offense as dangerous as any. He was wise enough to bring in an aggressive defensive coordinator after last year's debacle on that side of the ball cost the Chiefs a shot at the NFL title. It took a while before Steve Spagnuolo's system took hold, but it has looked strong in the second half of both playoff games. Kansas City must beware of falling behind again, though. INTANGIBLES Reid seeks his first Super Bowl title as a head coach, which could be the catalyst to eventual Hall of Fame selection. The Chiefs haven't won it all in 50 years, and this is the best team they've had in that span. They are more balanced than in past years, have a nice mixture of youth and experience and plenty of confidence. Shanahan has something to prove after the super debacle of the second half of the big game against New England when he was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in the 2016 season. San Francisco seeks its sixth overall crown in the Super Bowl era, which would tie for the most. And after romping over Minnesota and Green Bay, there is no shortage of confidence with the Niners. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • An alliance of Atlanta’s big league sports teams is pushing for the legalization of sports betting in Georgia, and we could see the first legislation proposed as soon as next week. The Professional Sports Integrity Alliance is made up of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Hawks. The group is lobbying lawmakers to legalize mobile sports betting. That’s wagering done on a phone, all cash, no credit. Atlanta Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay said the sports franchises wouldn’t make a dime off the legalized betting. Instead, all the tax revenue would go to the state of Georgia. He believes the individual franchises would profit from increased fan engagement, something he believes is important in modern sports. “With the younger fans, we need more engagement,”McKay said. “What we’ve seen from all the numbers is how much sports gambling there is going on from that age of 23 to 40, and this becomes an engagement opportunity for us.” McKay said teams would base the betting on the European Model, where bets are made over a phone or mobile device. Because it would not use credit cards, only cash in an account, he believes most bets would be made in the $10 to $20 range. He also said all the leagues and sports teams would take measures to ensure the integrity of the game. On its website, the Alliance states that Georgia is already home to $1.5 billion worth of illegal gambling. “They’re doing it now,” McKay said. “They’re doing it offshore, and they’re doing it illegally. So why wouldn’t we put some restrictions around it? Legalize it. Regulate it, and have the state make revenue off it.” There are some House lawmakers who have said they are open to the idea of approving a constitutional amendment allowing voters to decide on legalizing gambling. But over in the Senate, lawmakers have been cool to the idea. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said on the first day of the legislative session that it was not one of his top priorities. “I’ve not had a line of senators over the past nine months outside that office trying to take the door off the hinges to talk about gambling,” Duncan said. While the Alliance believes lawmakers could approve the measure without a constitutional amendment, most under the Gold Dome believe it needs one, and getting one approved requires a two-thirds majority in both houses.
  • A secretive meeting this week by the tarmac of Madrid's international airport between two prominent officials from Spain and Venezuela triggered a political storm on Thursday, with conservative parties pressing Spain's left-wing government for full disclosure. Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, the powerful right hand of President Nicolás Maduro, is on a European Union sanction list barred from entering the territory of any of the bloc's members. Despite that, she held talks in the early hours of Monday with José Luis Ábalos, Spain's Transportation Minister and a key figure in Spain's ruling Socialist party, the Spanish news website Vozpopuli revealed Thursday. A police source with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press that Rodríguez had indeed arrived in the early hours of Monday on a flight from Caracas. But the official, who asked not to be quoted because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter, said Rodríguez wasn't actually allowed to step into Spanish — or European — territory. Flight records seen by AP showed how a private Falcon-type aircraft covered the red-eye journey from the Venezuelan capital to Madrid. The same plane then took off in the early afternoon from the Spanish capital and arrived less than four hours later in Istanbul. Vozpopuli said the meeting between Ábalos and Rodríguez took place inside the jet and lasted 1.5 hours. The Venezuelan vice president and her team then spent time at the airport's VIP guest terminal, the website reported. Rodríguez was in Turkey on Wednesday to discuss with top officials preparations for the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Venezuela, the vice president showed in a series of tweets. Her previous public engagement had been back home and over the weekend, when she met with her Cuban counterpart. Rodríguez wasn't immediately reachable and the Venezuelan Embassy in Madrid declined to comment. Ábalos' press team didn't immediately answer to written questions but the minister told El País newspaper that he had been to the airport on a “private visit” and only to welcome Venezuelan Tourism Minister Félix Plasencia, who is attending a global tourism fair in Madrid. A Spanish foreign ministry official said he couldn't offer any comments. Earlier this week, the ministry had told AP that it had no knowledge of Rodríguez's arrival in Madrid. Rodríguez, a former foreign minister who has been No. 2 in Maduro's government since mid-2018, is one of 25 Venezuelan officials barred from entering the EU. She has also been subjected to U.S. sanctions. Three Spanish parties covering the ideological center to far right reacted by demanding the transportation and foreign ministers to appear in parliament to deliver a full account of the alleged talks and an explanation for hosting a sanctioned official. Ábalos is a key figure in the center-left coalition led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The coalition, a first in Spain's four decades of democratic rule, includes five members of the far-left United We Can party, whose leaders have in the past showed sympathy for Maduro's government. The timing of the trip also coincides with an international tour that has brought Juan Guaidó, the man designated by Venezuela's opposition as the interim leader until free elections can be held in the country, to Europe. The U.S.-backed Guaidó, who is heading to Paris on Friday and Madrid on Saturday, has been recognized by nearly 60 countries including Spain and most European nations. __ AP writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this story from Miami.
  • Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward jogged through the end zone, stretched out his right arm and made a one-handed catch to start Pro Bowl practice Wednesday. Not bad for a defensive lineman. And no one should be surprised to see Heyward do it again in the NFL’s all-star game Sunday. The annual event looked a lot like a backyard pickup game last year, with trick plays and position swaps being more prevalent than deep balls and defensive indifference. “It’s definitely more than just a game,” Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “We work hard all year long, beating each other down, so to come out and switch positions for one or two plays, I don’t think it hurts nobody. “A lot of guys, they played a different position back in the day, so let them come out and mess around with that a little bit.” Casey already put in his request, asking Baltimore coach John Harbaugh if he can get a goal-line carry. “I used to play a little running back,” said the 6-foot-1, 305-pound Casey. “He said he’s going to try, but he doesn’t’ want to mess up the system too much. I’m going to keep on trying to feed him all week. They’ve got to let me touch the ball at least once.” It wouldn’t be a shock considering what happened last year in Orlando. Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey caught a touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the AFC’s 26-7 victory. Tampa Bay receiver Mike Evans had a pass breakup and an interception on consecutive defensive snaps. Minnesota receiver Adam Thielen threw an interception on a trick play. A trio of running backs — New York’s Saquon Barkley, Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara — rushed the passer on third-down plays. Elliott also lined up as an up-back in punt formation on a fourth-and-13 play and gained 22, his longest run of the game. “It was just spur of the moment,” Elliott said. “It makes it more fun. Fun for the players, fun for the fans. It’s nice to be a little different.” It might just be the evolution — some might call it devolution — of the exhibition game that’s become less and less intense over the years. There’s little, if any, tackling and barely any contact along the lines of scrimmage. It often looks more like a walk-through than a workout — two-hand touch at the most. “It’s supposed to be about fun,” Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper said. “That’s the whole reason the NFL says do this – for it to be fun. So why not switch up positions a little bit, give the fans something to be excited about and shake things up? “At the end of the day, this is all a celebration. If you’re Mike (Evans), who played DB in high school, and you want to play a little bit in the NFL all-star game, go for it. If you’re Jalen Ramsey and you played receiver in high school and you want to play a little in the all-star game, have at it. “There are a lot of cool, fun wrinkles in this game and that’s what makes it special.” Not everyone is down to clown around, especially since players on the winning team get double the payout — $70,000 instead of $35,000. “Everybody has dreams of playing another position,' Jacksonville defensive end Calais Campbell said. “When you have those dreams, you have to really pull on the coach’s shoulder. But when the game’s on the line, though, we want to win. No playing around if you can’t deliver.” Denver linebacker Von Miller, though, enjoyed the frolicking last year and hopes for a bigger role Sunday. “This might be my year,' Miller said. 'You never know. I’m right here, I’m ready to go whenever they need me. Fans come out here to see their favorite players play football, and seeing them in a different light, that’s great.” ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • Kyle Shanahan's play calls from his first trip to the Super Bowl as an offensive coordinator have been heavily scrutinized. That's to be expected after Shanahan's Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots and lost in overtime three years ago in part because Atlanta was unable to run out the clock or add to the lead. Shanahan is back in the title game as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers. That's led to a rehashing of that game in Houston even if Shanahan has put it far behind him. 'Not much at all anymore, to tell you the truth,' he said this week when asked if he still goes over that game. 'You do it every second. The days after were real tough. Losing a Super Bowl is extremely tough for everybody, especially when you lose one when you have a 28-3 lead. The way it came down on me personally, I didn't react to that, the way people would expect, because there were definitely parts in that Super Bowl that I would love to have back and stuff I was very hard on myself, but the whole narrative of if I would've just ran it, we would've won. I know that wasn't the case.' Shanahan said there's just one play call he'd like to have back from that day and it's not calling for a third-down pass midway through the fourth quarter that led to a sack-fumble that allowed the Patriots to make it a one-possession game. The call he'd like back came on the next drive after the Falcons had used two long pass plays to move the ball down to the New England 22 with less than five minutes left. Three straight runs could have forced the Patriots to burn their timeouts and led to a field goal that would have given Atlanta an 11-point lead that might have been too much for even Tom Brady to overcome. But after losing a yard on a first-down run, Shanahan called for a pass play that he still regrets. 'They played a different coverage, didn't get the call I wanted so I didn't like the call,' he said. 'I was hoping we could just get rid of it, but they had a pretty good rush and got a sack.' Now backed up to the 35, Shanahan called for another pass to get back into field-goal range on third down only to have a 9-yard gain negated by a holding penalty. An incompletion on third down led to a punt from the 45, setting up Brady's game-tying drive. 'I wish I didn't call that play on second-and-11 that led to that sack,' Shanahan said. Now the coordinator who called one too many pass plays in his first trip to the Super Bowl is back to the title game as a head coach with one of the most run-dominant play scripts in NFL history. The 49ers have run the ball on about three-quarters of their plays so far this postseason, the highest rate of runs in the playoffs since Don Shula's Dolphins threw the ball just 31 times with Hall of Famer Bob Griese at quarterback on the way to the championship following the 1973 season. Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball just 19 times in the divisional round win over Minnesota and then was limited to eight passes last week in the NFC championship game against Green Bay. Shanahan instead has kept dialing up successful runs, including a trap play on third-and-8 that led to a 36-yard touchdown run by Raheem Mostert to open the scoring last week against the Packers. The Niners have run the ball 89 times the past two games, something Shanahan might have been more hesitant to do earlier in his coaching career. 'I didn't play o-line growing up,' he said. 'So, when I first became a coach all I wanted to do was throw it. I played receiver and quarterback my whole life. So, that's all you want to do. And you lean toward that, but the longer you do it, you realize that no matter how cool of passes you can draw up, you've got to protect, you've got to do things, you can't put all the pressure on the quarterback. And the thing that does make it a lot easier is being able to run the ball. Running the ball takes pressure off everyone and puts pressure on the defense.' ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • While San Francisco 49ers offensive assistant coach Katie Sowers is focused on preparing the team for its Super Bowl matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, her history-making moment is not going unnoticed. Sowers, 33, will be the first female and openly gay coach in Super Bowl history, CBS News reported. She is no stranger to breaking barriers. In 2017, she became the first openly gay coach in the NFL, according to The Washington Post. This is Sowers’ second season with the 49ers and her fourth season in the NFL, according to her team biography. She previously worked with the Atlanta Falcons. Sowers is a former athlete who played for several years in the Women’s Football Alliance, a full-contact football league for women. Sowers was featured in a Microsoft Surface ad, in which she says, '“I’m not here to just be the token female. I’m here to help us win.”
  • As the celebration raged in the victorious 49ers locker room, general manager John Lynch showed off a 'Mobile to Miami' T-shirt that symbolized the turnaround in San Francisco. The team that was so bad a year ago that the coaching staff got rewarded with a week coaching the Senior Bowl in Alabama is now playing for the championship in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2 in Miami against the Kansas City Chiefs. 'It is amazing,' defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. 'It means a lot to us, especially going through all of the adversity that we went through over the past couple of years. To be going to the Super Bowl and have the chance to be the top of the league is amazing.' The 49ers (15-3) got there thanks to a big-play running game led by Raheem Mostert that rushed for 285 yards and a defense that tormented Aaron Rodgers in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. That sent the Niners to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season. Only a handful of players such as cornerback Richard Sherman, tackle Joe Staley, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and center Ben Garland have Super Bowl playing experience. Coach Kyle Shanahan went there once before as an offensive coordinator for Atlanta in the 2016 season when the Falcons memorably blew a 28-3 lead and lost 34-28 in overtime to New England. Shanahan took lessons from that game, including never feeling comfortable with a lead. But the biggest thing he learned was how to approach Super Bowl week. He plans to have a normal week of practice before the team leaves for Miami, with coaches putting in the game plan on Tuesday and then players returning Wednesday for three straight days of practice. The players will then get Saturday off before leaving for the game on Sunday and getting another week of preparation in Miami. 'We try to do everything before,' Shanahan said. 'We definitely know we have the whole week when we get there. But there's different media obligations that get you out of your routine and everything. You don't want to play catch-up at the end of the Super Bowl week. You want to do that now.' WHAT'S WORKING Running game. One week after Tevin Coleman ran for 105 yards and two TDs, Mostert did even better. Mostert had 29 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns, posting the second-best rushing total in playoff history to Eric Dickerson's 248 yards for the Rams on Jan. 4, 1986. Mostert had the 11th game since 1950 with at least 200 yards rushing and at least four TDs. WHAT NEEDS HELP Not much. Just about everything is going right for the Niners, who have won back-to-back playoff games in the season by at least 17 points for the fourth time in franchise history. The first three times that happened ended in championships following the 1984, '88 and '89 seasons. The defense did allow a couple of big pass plays in the second half but the game was well in hand by then and that caused little damage. STOCK UP CB Emmanuel Moseley. Thrown back into the starting lineup after Ahkello Witherspoon got benched against Minnesota, Moseley came up with one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. He intercepted Aaron Rodgers late in the first half to set up Mostert's third TD run that made it 27-0. Moseley will be counted on again in the Super Bowl against the high-powered Chiefs passing game. STOCK DOWN Garoppolo's stats. Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball only eight times against the Packers, the third fewest for a team in a playoff game since at least 1940. Only the Dolphins threw it less in the playoffs with six and seven attempts on the way to the Super Bowl title following the 1973 season. Garoppolo completed six of the throws for 77 yards but was asked to do little with the defense and running game playing so well. INJURED Coleman left the game with a dislocated shoulder. He was undergoing an MRI on Monday to determine the severity but Shanahan said he expects Coleman will have a chance to play. ... S Jaquiski Tartt irritated a rib injury that sidelined him for the final four games of the regular season but should be OK for the Super Bowl. KEY NUMBER 25.2. The Niners have passed on just 25.2% of plays this postseason, including sacks. San Francisco has run the 89 times in two playoff games, becoming the first team in 16 years to post back-to-back 40-carry games in a single postseason. Carolina did it following the 2003 season on the way to a Super Bowl loss. NEXT STEPS The Niners seek their record-tying sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks in Miami. Only the Patriots and Steelers have won six Super Bowls. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
  • SpaceX completed the last big test of its crew capsule before launching astronauts in the next few months, mimicking an emergency escape shortly after liftoff Sunday. No one was aboard for the wild ride in the skies above Cape Canaveral, just two mannequins. The nine-minute flight ended with the Dragon crew capsule parachuting safely into the Atlantic, after separating and speeding away from the exploding rocket. “I'm super fired up,” Elon Musk, the company's founder and chief executive, told reporters. “It's just going to be wonderful to get astronauts back into orbit from American soil after almost a decade of not being able to do so. That's just super exciting.” NASA astronauts have not launched from the U.S. since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the next Crew Dragon could launch with a pair of NASA astronauts in the second quarter of this year — as early as April. The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off as normal, but just over a minute into its supersonic flight, the Dragon crew capsule catapulted off the top 12 miles (20 kilometers) above the Atlantic. Powerful thrusters on the capsule propelled it up and out of harm's way, as the rocket engines deliberately shut down and the booster tumbled out of control and exploded in a giant fireball. The capsule reached an altitude of about 27 miles (44 kilometers) before parachuting into the ocean just offshore to bring the test flight to a close. Everything appeared to go well despite the choppy seas and overcast skies. Within minutes, a recovery ship was alongside the capsule. Recycled from three previous launches, the SpaceX rocket was destroyed as it burst apart in flight and slammed in pieces into the sea. SpaceX normally tries to recover its boosters to drive down launch costs, landing them upright on a floating platform or back at the launch site. NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, said the launch abort test was 'our last open milestone' before allowing SpaceX to launch Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station. Their launch date will depend, in part, on whether NASA decides to keep them for months at the orbiting lab, versus just a week or two. A longer mission will require more training before flight. The astronauts monitored Sunday's flight from the firing room. Hurley said it was “pretty neat to see” the capsule aboard the recovery ship within two hours. By all early accounts, the test was successful. “We'll see what the data show and go from there,” Hurley said. “But it certainly is a confidence builder from the standpoint if you ever got into that situation, that Dragon can get us away from the booster quickly.” The astronauts also will have access to speed before liftoff. During a launch dress rehearsal Friday, Hurley and Behnken rode in a white Tesla Model X from Kennedy Space Center's crew quarters to the launch pad, their sleek white and black spacesuits matching the electric sports car with wing-like doors. Musk, who also runs Tesla, used the cars to get around the space center Sunday. Delayed a day by bad weather, Sunday's launch from Kennedy brought together hundreds of SpaceX, NASA and Air Force employees on land, at sea and in the air. Tourists and locals alike packed the adjoining visitor complex and nearby beaches to see the dramatic fiery spectacle of an out-of-control rocket. Musk brought along his own family, including his brother. NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing a decade ago to transport astronauts to and from the space station for billions of dollars. Both companies struggled with technical problems, adding years of delay and forcing NASA to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars extra for Russian rocket rides. After multiple cargo deliveries for NASA, SpaceX successfully flew an enhanced crew capsule to the space station last March without anyone on board, but it exploded a month later during ground testing. The emergency escape thrusters — the kind used in Sunday's test — had to be retooled. In all, SpaceX has tested these powerful Super Draco thrusters some 700 times. Last month, meanwhile, Boeing's Starliner crew capsule ended up in the wrong orbit on its first test flight and had to skip the space station. The previous month, only two of the Starliner's three parachutes deployed during a launch abort test. Lueders said it's too soon to know whether Boeing will need to send another Starliner to the space station without a crew or go straight to launching astronauts later this year. An investigation team is still looking into why the Starliner's automated timer was off by 11 hours during the December test flight. The importance of launch escape was demonstrated in 2017 when two astronauts, an American and a Russian, were pulled to safety during a failed launch from Kazakhstan. They experienced up to seven times the force of gravity during the abort, but walked away from the accident. The SpaceX in-flight abort system, Musk pointed out, should be gentler for the crew and is good from the launch pad all the way to orbit. Musk said the Dragon's escape system should work — in principle — even if the capsule is still attached when the rocket erupts in a fireball. He said that could look like “something out of ‘Star Wars’” with the capsule flying right out of a fireball. “Obviously we want to avoid doing that,' he quickly added, taking note of all the NASA personnel around him. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • Astronauts launched by SpaceX in coming months will ride to their rockets in high fashion. Instead of using a retro-style astrovan, SpaceX crews will travel to the launch pad in Tesla sports cars. Elon Musk, who also runs both SpaceX and the electric car company, used Teslas to get around Kennedy Space Center for Sunday's launch escape test. No one was aboard for the test flight, just two mannequins. But during a launch dress rehearsal Friday, the two NASA astronauts assigned to the first SpaceX crew got a lift to the pad in a Tesla Model X. The sleek white and black spacesuits worn by astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken for Friday's practice matched the white Tesla roadster with wing-like doors waiting for them outside Kennedy's crew quarters. A SpaceX employee drove them to the pad. A second white Model X carried SpaceX support staff. A SpaceX spokesman confirmed Sunday that this will be the transport for crew missions moving forward. The first SpaceX crew launch, with Hurley and Behnken, could occur as soon as April. 'This is part of the game of us learning to work with a commercial provider,' said NASA spokesman Joshua Santora. Boeing, which also aims to fly NASA astronauts this year, is sticking with the vintage look. It plans to use a shiny new Airstream van similar to the astrovans used for decades by NASA. Two years ago next month, Musk launched his own cherry-red Tesla Roadster on the debut flight of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. The convertible — with a spacesuited mannequin named Starman at the wheel — was placed in an orbit stretching past Mars.

News

  • Six people were shot early Sunday after a party in a popular North Carolina restaurant, officials said. Police were called to the scene at about 12:05 a.m. after a party at Thelma’s Down Home Cooking in Salisbury, WSOC-TV reported. The State Bureau of Investigation is assisting local authorities in the case. One person was shot in the chest, two were trampled and one person was treated for anxiety. The shooting victims were taken to area hospitals, WSOC reported. The victim with the most severe injury was listed in stable condition. Officials have not identified any suspects and are seeking cellphone video or photos that might help in the investigation.
  • The Super Bowl festivities begin this week in South Florida, but snake hunters were agog about another annual event -- the Python Bowl that ended in the Everglades National Park on Saturday. Hunters caught 80 Burmese pythons as more than 750 people from 20 states competed in the 10-day event, according to a news release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The wildlife commission and the South Florida Water Management District announced the results and winners of the Python Removal Competition during a ceremony in Miami on Saturday, WFTX reported. Here are the winners by category: Mike Kimmel removed eight pythons, earning him the top prize for the most snakes, a Tracker 570 ATV. Barry Offenburger won $1,000 in the military category for catching three pythons. Tom Rahill won $2,000 for capturing the longest snake — a 12-foot-7.3-inch python –– and won another $2,000 because it was the heaviest, tipping the scales at 62 pounds. Dave Mucci won $1,000 for an 11-foot python, the longest snake caught in the military category. He also won $1,000 for a 49.4-pounder. Florida holds the Python Bowl annually to put the squeeze on the Burmese python, a nonvenomous constrictor. According to conservationists, the snakes, estimated in the tens of thousands in the Everglades, pose a threat to native wildlife. Because they have few predators, Burmese pythons have flourished in the swamps of South Florida, eating animals ranging from rabbits to alligators, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
  • A pilot was killed Saturday morning when a small plane crashed into the side of a north Florida home, according to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. The family inside the home managed to escape the home without injury, the Sheriff’s Office said. A picture a viewer sent to Action News Jax shows the moment when a plane crashed into the front yard of the Lake City home.In the picture, a man in an orange shirt can be seen running across the yard to try to help the pilot, but he had to retreat because the flames were too extensive. Neighbors watched as a ball of fire flared up in their neighbor’s yard. Kristy Amato said she hears many small planes and often worries about them. “I was sitting on my couch watching a movie with my daughter, and I heard a plane take off like all of the planes take off,' Amato told Action News Jax. “Then I heard a backfire, then a loud kaboom, so I ran out front and there was a plane in my neighbor’s yard on fire.” Columbia County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Murray Smith told Action News Jax that after crews put the fire out, the pilot’s body was found underneath debris. “Shortly before 10, we received about 59 911 calls,” Smith told the television station. Smith said he believes the plane was a single-engine aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board is now working to find out where the Piper PA-32 was going and the name of the pilot who died. Officials believe he was the only person on the plane. “There is an airport nearby, but so many neighbors have come over and gave so many stories, so we’re just going to wait for NTSB to get all of the facts straight,” said Smith. The Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB are investigating what caused the plane to crash, but the investigation likely won’t be complete for months.
  • Three people — including two teens — are in custody and police are looking for a fourth after an armed robbery at a Sandy Springs jewelry store.  Antonio Collier, 40, Antwan DeKarlos Robinson, 17, and a 16-year-old juvenile were arrested after the incident, which happened about 4:20 p.m. Saturday at a business on Abernathy Road near Roswell Road, officials said.  Witnesses to the robbery and the store owner were able to subdue two of the suspects until police arrived, Channel 2 Action News reported.  Three men walked into the business and tried to steal items from the display case, Sandy Springs police spokesman Sgt. Sam Worsham said.  “They had hammers and were breaking everything and grabbed Rolexes,” a witness told Channel 2.  The owner, who was returning from lunch, saw the robbery in progress, the news station reported. He told Channel 2 he hit the robbers over the head and in the face with a bag full of glass pickle jars.  Two bystanders then tackled one of the suspects, Worsham said.  Two other suspects drove off in a car, he said. The incident turned into a police chase that ended in a crash on Glenridge Road.  One of the suspects was arrested at the scene, and the fourth suspect ran away into a wooded area, Worsham said.  Collier, Robinson, and the juvenile are all charged with armed robbery, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, felony criminal damage to property, possession of tools for the commission of a crime, obstruction and two counts of battery.  Read the full story from Channel 2 Action News here.
  • Tamra Judge is leaving “The Real Housewives of Orange County” after 12 seasons, the star of the Bravo series said in an Instagram post Saturday. “It’s been a wild 12 years. But it’s time for me to move on,” Judge wrote on Instagram. “I’m sad to go but I’m very excited about my future.” Judge is currently the longest-running full-time cast member in “Housewives” history, People reported. She joined the show during its third season in 2007, according to the magazine. Judge’s announcement comes a day after fellow co-star Vicki Gunvalson also announced she was leaving the reality television show, E! Online reported. Judge said she was looking forward to life after the series. “It’s been a wild ride, and after all these years, I’m looking forward to life away from the cameras,” Judge told People. “I was offered a chance to come back to the show in a limited role, but would prefer to walk away on my own terms.” Judge has been part of the show’s most memorable moments, including the show’s first wine toss, People reported. She also starred in a three-episode spinoff of the series, “Tamra’s OC Wedding,” which documented her June 2013 wedding to Eddie Judge. “I want to thank all the fans who have offered me their support over the years,” she told People. “It’s meant a lot.”
  • Margaret Mackie is not a household name in the music industry, but she’s getting there in a hurry. The 83-year-old dementia patient from Scotland has gone viral on YouTube with her heart-melting duet of “My Way” with her caregiver, Jamie Lee Morley. The pair recorded a single of the song, with proceeds going to Dementia UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. People with elderly parents will have a tough time avoiding the tissues after watching the sweet, sentimental ballad made famous by Frank Sinatra. But Mackie is not ready to face the final curtain just yet. She’s content to keep singing. Morley, a musician who works as a food server at the Northcare Suites Care Home in Edinburgh since it opened last fall, told The Washington Post he was walking past a lounge at the center when he heard a lovely voice singing Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Morley told the newspaper he thought someone had left the radio on, but then he saw Mackie singing the song in perfect pitch. “I was stunned,” Morley, 31, told the Post. “I’ve loved singing and music since I was a little lad, and I could just tell that Margaret did, too. Her voice is amazing.” Morley and Mackie sang “My Way” at the care home’s Christmas party in December, CBS News reported. A video of the duet was posted to YouTube and quickly went viral. “Every day in work we sing this song together and I do whatever I can to brighten her day and all the other residents,” Morley wrote on YouTube. 'For those close to me will know this was my Grandad’s funeral song who our family sadly lost to Alzheimer’s last year. I’ve never really sang this song, as it’s a classic, but I knew how much Margaret and her family would love it.” Mackie’s family attended the Christmas party and enjoyed the duet, CBS News reported. They are even more delighted with the response to the video. “It has brought her back to life. The dementia was taking a hold of her and she was getting sad with it, but this has given her a new lease of life,” Mackie’s daughter, Mairi Hunter, told the BBC. “It’s quite remarkable how she can remember the lyrics. It just seems to come back to her. “She wants everyone to be happy. People cry when they hear the song and she’ll say ‘No don’t cry, I want you to be happy.’” Meanwhile, the recording of “My Way” is No. 6 on the United Kingdom’s Amazon download chart and at one point reached No. 27 on iTunes’ Top 40 in the U.K., the Post reported. That’s ahead of Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran, the newspaper reported. Morley filmed his excursion with Mackie to the recording studio and released the single and a music video to go with it Dec,. 28, CBS News reported. The music video has had nearly 200,000 views since its release. Mackie, a former whiskey distillery worker, rarely remembers one day from the next, the Post reported. She came to Northcare Suites in October from another care center, Jordan Simpson, manager of Northcare Suites, told the newspaper. While Mackie might be forgetful, she never forgets the lyrics to her favorite songs, Simpson said. “Singing is something that makes Margaret happy. She has a great singing voice,” Simpson told the Post. “And although she has dementia, she has a great memory for song lyrics. She and Jamie sing together most of the day.” Mackie said she wouldn’t mind recording another song, and joked about recording an entire album, the BBC reported. “It’s great seeing your face in all those newspapers,” Mackie told the BBC. “It’s nice to have a busy life like that, every now and then.” The single can be purchased on iTunes here.