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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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Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

Gillmore: No panic despite thinning TE ranks

When the Ravens entered training camp, tight end was considered the deepest position on the team after the signing of veteran Ben Watson and the return of Dennis Pitta from two serious hip injuries.

But now, the Ravens are staring at the prospect of having just one healthy tight end for their Week 1 game against the Bills.

Watson suffered what is believed to be a season-ending Achilles injury on the first play of the Ravens preseason game Saturday night against the Lions, and Dennis Pitta (broken finger) and Maxx Williams (undisclosed) remain sidelined with injuries. Two other tight ends, Darren Waller and Nick Boyle must begin serving suspensions when the regular season starts – Waller four games and Boyle 10.

So of the top six tight ends on the depth chart, Crockett Gillmore is the only healthy one who will be on the roster for the Sept. 11 opener.

But Gillmore, who had one catch for 2 yards in the Ravens 30-9 win Saturday night, said no one is in panic mode.

MORE RAVENS: 3 OBSERVATIONS FROM FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

“This is an organization that has dealt with those kinds of things since I’ve been here, and we’ve always had guys step up,” Gillmore said.

Watson’s injury does have a painful ring of familiarity; the Ravens lost veterans Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to season-ending Achilles injuries last year.

“It’s not like we’re sweating bullets around here,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play.”

The problem is, at least two of them – Waller and Boyle – can’t play early in the season. Pitta has been out with a broken finger sustained in a scuffle with Kamalei Correa in a stadium practice earlier this month, and Wiliams has missed the past two preseason games. Their availability for Week 1 remains uncertain.

Watson’s injury could open the door for Daniel Brown to make the team, at least until Waller’s suspension is over, depending on the progress of Pitta and Williams.

Another option might be to look to utilize fullback Kyle Juszczyk more often in a hybrid role.

 “That’s a versatile guy that can do everything,” Gillmore said.

“We’re not sweating,” Gillmore said. “We’ve got a bunch of receivers, too. We’ll make it work.”

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Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

Ravens win preseason game vs. Lions, but lose Watson for season

BALTIMORE – Five instant observations from the Ravens’ 30-9 preseason win over the Lions, which made the Ravens 3-0 this preseason:

1. Ben Watson’s season-ending Achilles injury made this victory hollow:

The veteran tight end was lost on the first play from scrimmage, and his season was lost before he ever played a regular season game for the Ravens. Football can be cruel.

2.  Rookie running back Kenneth Dixon’s knee injury could be another blow.

It was announced that Dixon had a sprained left knee, but he was helped off the field, and no timetable was given for his return. It would not be surprising if an MRI is forthcoming. If so, many people will be holding their breath.

MORE RAVENS: DEEPER LOOK AT FLACCO'S PRESEASON DEBUT

3. Rookie pass rusher Matt Judon looks ready to have an immediate impact.

Judon had a strip-sack on another active night. At the very least, Judon looks like could have an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

4. Linebacker-safety Anthony Levine could be the Ravens’ most improved player.

Levine had an athletic interception, and he has made a successful transition to playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Last week, Levine picked off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt against the Colts and took it to the house. Levine’s ability to line up in multiple spots, and to make plays, could make the Ravens’ defense more versatile and less predictable.

5.  Wide receiver Jeremy Butler keeps making plays.

I know it’s preseason, and I know the Ravens are deep at wide receiver. But I think they have to keep Jeremy Butler. He had his second touchdown catch of the preseason, he can contribute on special teams, and he caught 31 passes last season. I see the Ravens keeping seven receivers - Steve Smith Sr., Kamar Aiken, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore, and Butler.

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Three observations as post-injury Flacco returns to field in preseason debut

Three observations as post-injury Flacco returns to field in preseason debut

BALTIMORE – Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played two series Saturday night against the Lions, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 94 yards before leaving the game. It was Flacco’s first game since his season-ending knee injury last November. Here are three observations from Flacco’s action:

1. The Ravens got what they wanted - they got Flacco work, and he escaped unscathed.

Flacco had talked about playing the entire half, but Ryan Mallett took over in the second quarter. Flacco had already thrown 16 passes, and his knee has not been an issue since Day 1 of training camp. After seeing what happened to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo the night before, it was hard to blame the Ravens for playing it safe.

Flacco got his first sack out of the way, and it came courtesy of an old friend. Lions tackle Haloti Ngata got credit for sacking Flacco for a one-yard loss. Flacco and Ngata were teammates with the Ravens for seven seasons. Flacco got right up, and Ngata and Flacco now have something else to laugh about, because he shrugged it off and continued to play. 

MORE RAVENS: WATSON LOST FOR SEASON

2. Flacco had good chemistry with wide receiver Mike Wallace.

He tried to hit Wallace deep on his first pass, and Wallace caught three passes for 37 yards. Wallace was one of the new weapons the Ravens acquired this offseason, and he has talked about how much he looked forward to playing with Flacco. Perhaps the Ravens will get more from Wallace than the Vikings and Dolphins did in recent years.

3. Flacco did enough to enter Week 1 feeling even more confident.

He won’t play in the preseason finale, so Flacco can prepare for Week 1 against the Bills, and he has already gotten his feet wet in game action. Mission accomplished.