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Beyonce just 1 of many stars at Super Bowl

Beyonce just 1 of many stars at Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS (AP) The entertainment leading up to the Super Bowl is so A-list, Beyonce may not even have the most anticipated performance surrounding the big game.

Justin Timberlake is due to give his first major musical performance in four years. Stevie Wonder is performing for the masses at an outdoor concert. CeeLo Green is reuniting with his old hip-hop clique, Goodie Mob, and Rascal Flatts is teaming up with Journey for a concert. Those represent only a fraction of the all-star events to celebrate the Super Bowl.

``The Super Bowl has become such a big event in itself. So many people come from everywhere, looking to not only be a part of the Super Bowl but also the festivities leading up to the game,'' said CeeLo, who is performing at ESPN's Next event. ``There's so much to do, from parties, concerts and events.''

Indeed, until the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers meet at the Superdome on Sunday, much of the emphasis in the days leading up to the event has very little to do with the game.

Lil Wayne is throwing a major bash in his hometown, Jay-Z is holding court at another event the evening before his wife, Beyonce, performs at halftime, and Jamie Foxx is due to give a private concert - and that's just the lineup for Saturday.

Director Michael Bay is holding court at a private estate for a celebrity dinner for charity. Santigold, Solange and producer/DJ Diplo will perform at Audi's two parties during the weekend, and both Playboy and Maxim are planning blowout parties with their trademark models.

``I've never seen anything like this,'' said Gary Solomon Jr., co-founder of Solomon Group, the local company hired to help set up the stages and lighting for the outdoor concerts and broadcasting areas in the French Quarter and near the Superdome.

``When you look at the master calendar of all the events, it's pretty daunting,'' he said. ``This Super Bowl is like having 30 events in the same weekend.''

Perhaps the most hotly anticipated event features Timberlake. He will perform during ``DIRECTV Super Saturday Night,'' an invitation-only concert that will also feature Ahmir ``Questlove'' Thompson of The Roots as DJ. Questlove is a friend of Timberlake's who served as DJ at the pop star's wedding to Jessica Biel in October.

Questlove said he's honored that he was asked to DJ Timberlake's return to the stage on Super Bowl weekend. Timberlake is expected to perform his new single, ``Suit & Tie,'' which features Jay-Z, and other tracks from his upcoming album, ``The 20/20 Experience.''

``The album is incredible,'' Questlove said. ``I'm a huge supporter, and I'm there to make sure the audience has a good time.''

Jay-Z and Beyonce have been spotted in New Orleans, and many are wondering whether Jay-Z - who is hosting a party elsewhere that night - will be taking the stage with Timberlake.

``Mum's the word,'' Questlove said. ``All that is under wraps.''

Stevie Wonder is also performing Saturday night. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend, whose classic hit ``Superstition'' will be featured in two of this year's Bud Light Super Bowl commercials, is headlining an outdoor concert. Rising guitarist Gary Clark Jr. is also scheduled to perform.

Besides the Timberlake concert, Questlove is performing with The Roots at three Super Bowl parties, including the 49ers after-game party - ``or funeral, depending on the outcome of the game,'' he said with a laugh.

OneRepublic and Matchbox Twenty will perform as part of the Super Bowl pregame show. As will ``American Idol'' alum Jennifer Hudson, who will join the chorus from Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing ``America the Beautiful'' before the 49ers and Ravens take the field, the NFL said.

The chorus features 26 children from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed in a Dec. 14 shooting rampage.

The performance will be part of CBS's pre-game show and will be broadcast live. Alicia Keys will sing the national anthem.

Much of the entertainment kicks off Friday. VH1 is hosting a concert headlined by rock band Train while Grammy-winning R&B singer Fantasia leads a pack of Christian and gospel singers for the NFL's Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis is being honored with a ``Lifetime of Inspiration'' award during the event, which will be hosted by Sherri Shepherd of ABC's ``The View'' and Grammy-winning gospel musician Kirk Franklin.

The gospel celebration will also include a performance by the NFL Players Choir of dozens of current and former professional football players and a performance by Lecrae, the Christian rapper NFL players have named this year's ``Player's Choice'' artist.

``It's a definite honor, really to even be considered but on top of that to be requested by the players. It's really humbling,'' said Lecrae.

Miami rapper Pitbull has two scheduled appearances this weekend: Friday night he's performing at an invitation-only party by Rolling Stone with rapper Flo Rida and Nick Cannon. On Saturday, he performs for the general public during DIRECTV's ``Celebrity Beach Bowl,'' a star-studded flag football match that will include Snoop Dogg, Neil Patrick Harris, Chace Crawford, Josh Hutcherson and former NFL players Deion Sanders and Warren Moon.

Also Saturday, CMT is hosting a ``Crossroads'' concert with headliners Journey and Rascal Flatts.

Though many of the star-studded concerts will have limited access or are by invitation only, dozens of local artists will be performing throughout the weekend on stages set up along the Mississippi River and in the NFL Experience at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Many downtown streets are being closed to traffic to allow more pedestrian access in the main entertainment areas - the French Quarter, riverfront and near the Superdome.

``It's great that it's back here. There's a rich tradition here in New Orleans of just having a great time,'' CeeLo said. ``The atmosphere in New Orleans is always upbeat.''

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AP Writer Jonathan Landrum Jr. contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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Pass defense? Ravens linebackers have it covered

Pass defense? Ravens linebackers have it covered

After Sunday's 19-17 win at Jacksonville, coach John Harbaugh was succinct and direct about the way his defense has carried the Ravens to a 3-0 start.

"This year we’re playing well enough to get it done," he said. "We are a better defense."

One of the ways that has shown itself is in pass coverage by the linebackers. Last season, linebackers struggled mightily in coverage; running backs outran them in the flat and tight ends torched them over the middle. In fact, Daryl Smith's struggles in coverage led the Ravens to give younger, faster Zach Orr more playing time in passing situations.

Orr now has a starting role, and he came up with his first career interception on Sunday. In fact, with C.J. Mosley also grabbing an acrobatic one-handed interception in that game, Ravens linebackers already have three interceptions this season. They had one all of last year. 

Orr said ever since last season ended, linebackers coach Don "Wink" Martindale has made coverage a major point of emphasis.

"He told us to work on it in the offseason on our own," Orr said. "When we got back up here for OTAs and all that, we went to work on it. We do pass drops every single day."

"It is repetition and experience," added Orr, who like Mosley is in his third NFL season. "The game is starting to slow down for myself, probably for C.J., too. The coaches do a great job of preparing us. Coach ‘Wink’ goes over the pass concepts and what they try to do and how they try and draw the linebackers up and fit it over our head and right in front the safeties. That is one thing that we want to eliminate."

Mosley did exactly that on Sunday with a one-handed, leaping grab on a ball that Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was trying to float over his head. Mosley also made the game-clinching pick in the closing seconds at Cleveland.

"He has had really good depth," coach John Harbaugh said. "You look at those two interceptions – really good depth on his coverage. He shows a lot of range, spatial awareness, not jumping routes when he isn’t supposed to, playing top-down-type of zone coverage; those were both zone coverage plays. To go up and get the ball and track the ball. Those were not easy catches – either one of them. That was good to see.”

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Will Kenneth Dixon provide spark Ravens rushing attack needs?

Will Kenneth Dixon provide spark Ravens rushing attack needs?

OWINGS MILLS - Will rookie Kenneth Dixon provide the spark that the Ravens’ rushing attack needs?

Dixon is moving closer to returning from his knee injury, after practicing Wednesday on a limited basis. No definite timetable has been given for Dixon’s return, but to say the Ravens have been eager to get him back would be an understatement.

Without Dixon the first three games, the Ravens have struggled to run the football, with a rushing attack that ranks 26th in the NFL. While Terrance West has averaged 3.6 yards per carry and Justin Forsett has averaged 3.2, Dixon led the Ravens during the preseason averaging 4.9. He showed acceleration, ability to make people miss, and sure hands – all the qualities that convinced the Ravens to draft him in the fourth round.

Dixon is just as eager to come back as the Ravens are to have him.

“I’m just working really hard, as hard as I can to get back,” Dixon said. “If it’s this week, it’s this week. If it’s next week, it’s next week.

“I can’t wait to get out there and show what I can do in the offense. I feel like I can do a lot of things well in this offense – getting the ball and running downhill, catching the ball out of the backfield, making a guy miss, probably taking it to distance. I’m just ready to get back out there and see what I can do.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh doesn’t want expectations to get out of hand for Dixon, and the Ravens must also block better to run better. However, nobody is denying Dixon’s talent.

“He can provide another running back that can tote the ball pretty good,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to find out. He’s a rookie, so I think a lot of what he can provide is yet to be determined. He showed flashes in preseason, which was exciting. I think we’re all excited about what he might do. We’ll just have to see. That will be fun to see.”

When Dixon returns, it will be interesting to see how playing time is divided among Forsett, West, Dixon, and Buck Allen, who has yet to be activated for a game. But the Ravens need to improve their rushing attack, regardless of who makes it happen. Barring a setback with his knee, Dixon should be getting his chance soon.

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