Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan smiles after defeating the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta. The Falcons advance to Super Bowl 51 with the win. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan studied New England quarterback Tom Brady when he was a student at Boston College.
Now, playing in his first Super Bowl, he is set to face Brady, the 39-year-old quarterback, who will play in the big game for the seventh time.
"Tom's had an unbelievable year, played extremely well and extremely efficient," Ryan said. "A lot of touchdowns, very few turnovers. He's just been playing really good football. He's been that way for a long time. He's been consistent throughout his career. He's such a great player, such a great competitor."
Ryan and Brady have a relationship.
"He's been a friend for a long time; I've gotten to know him since I've been in the league, and certainly he's a good person and a good guy to talk to," Ryan said.
They have stayed in touch over the years.
"For sure, back and forth during the season, letting him know he's doing a good job," Ryan said. "I see the highlights, and I think it's the same for him. That's the fraternity at the quarterback position. You get to know guys playing against them ... and he's one of the good guys, and a really good person."
Ryan is in ninth season and hopes he can play until he's 39.
"I hope so" Ryan said. "I think he's kind of set the bar for longevity, playing well at a high level for a really long time. I know that he's incredibly dedicated on and off the field in terms of taking care of himself, and training all year round.
"He's kind of shown the way how to do that, how to take care of yourself and how to approach this the right way so you can play the right way and play at a high level for a long time."
Ryan is ready to do battle with his friend. There's plenty of pre-Super Bowl chatter about the two offenses and the game turning into an high-scoring affair.
"I think there's two pretty good defenses, too," Ryan said. "I think the Patriots lead the league in points allowed so their defense is really, really good. When we've watched them, they've done a good job of keeping people out of the end zone, keeping people from scoring points."
Ryan was quick to point out that the Falcons' young defense is improving.
"But our defense is playing really well now, too," Ryan said. "We went against a great offense last week and stepped up, and played really well. Our unit is a defense that has gotten better throughout the year and is playing their best right now."