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Early Bird Report 1/29: Takk McKinley's pregame inspiration; takeaways from 2018 Pro Bowl

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes the unique inspiration for the Falcons' first-round draft pick as well as takeaways from the AFC's comeback win in the Pro Bowl.



ESPN: Pregame tributes to late grandmother inspired McKinley

Throughout his rookie season, Falcons pass-rusher Takkarist McKinley developed into a steady contributor for the defense. The first-round draft pick finished the 2017 season with six sacks, one shy of the franchise rookie record, and he appears to have a bright future ahead of him on a surging, young defense.

Speaking with ESPN's Vaughn McClure, McKinley detailed a pregame ritual that provided key motivation. On the night he was drafted, McKinely made waves after he walked on stage carrying a picture of his late grandmother, Myrtle Collins. She continued to inspire him throughout the season, as McKinley revealed he would look at a picture of her on his cell phone just prior to kickoff.

"When it was time to go out on the field for the last time after the coaches speak, I'd look at the picture, get emotional," McKinley told McClure.

"She's why I'm here, and what I play the game for. I say something while looking at those pictures, but at the same time, I'm going to keep that between me and her."

Here are some more stories on the Falcons:

BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFL What we learned from AFC's comeback win in Pro Bowl

The NFL Pro Bowl ended with a comeback victory from the AFC, which defeated the NFC 24-23 to win its second straight all-star game. Three Falcons took part in this year's Pro Bowl: Alex Mack, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Here are some of the things NFL fans learned from the AFC's comeback win in the Pro Bowl, courtesy of's Nick Shook.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr spurred the comeback victory for the AFC with a last-minute touchdown pass to Titans tight end Delanie Walker. Carr was efficient in his turn at quarterback, completing 11 of his 15 passes for 115 yards and the touchdown pass to Walker, who caught two touchdowns for the AFC en route to being crowned offensive MVP. Broncos linebacker Von Miller was crowned defensive MVP after registering three tackles, one sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

The Saints and Vikings players had a key role early on for the NFC. Drew Brees led a scoring drive early in the game that ended with a touchdown pass to receiver Adam Thielen, while Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Marshon Lattimore combined to defend four passes with Smith snagging a 79-yard pick-six.

To see the rest of Shook's takeaways from this year's Pro Bowl, click here.

Here are some more articles from around the league:

*Sports Illustrated: *How Belichick’s defense evolved


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