Wednesday November 25th, 2020 5:05PM

Ryan at 35: Falcons QB still performing at high level

By Paul Newberry
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ATLANTA (AP) — By NFL standards, Matt Ryan is a senior citizen.

The Atlanta Falcons star turned 35 in May and heads into this most unusual of seasons as the league’s seventh-oldest starting quarterback.

”I guess it's good to be in the top seven of anything in this league," Ryan quipped after practice Wednesday.

Consistency has always been a Ryan trademark — and there’s nothing to indicate much has changed in that regard — but some pundits wonder if the 2016 MVP missed his window of opportunity to capture a championship and truly leave behind a legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation.

That run to the Super Bowl — the one that ended with the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead to the Patriots — seems like a lifetime ago.

Ryan doesn't see it that way. He feels like the best is still to come.

“I've played this game a long time," he said. “I don't think that's changed with age. I think I've only gotten better. I'm a better decision-maker, I'm more experienced, I'm better situationally than I've ever been. I feel really good about where at I'm at in my career. I feel like every week I give my team a chance to go out there and win."

Ryan could point out that he's only the third-oldest quarterback in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints are led by 41-year-old Drew Brees, while 43-year-old, six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady is now taking the snaps in Tampa Bay.

Ryan is not out of place in such an illustrious quarterback division.

He has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in nine straight seasons, climbing into the top 10 on a career passing list that is led by Brees, with Brady holding down the No. 2 spot.

But the Falcons have struggled through back-to-back 7-9 seasons, which has pushed Ryan to a bit of an afterthought in a league that features a new generation of eye-popping quarterbacks, from Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City to Deshaun Watson in Houston.

Yet there's little doubt that Ryan and Julio Jones continue to give Atlanta one of the best quarterback-receiver duos in the league.

“Fortunately for us, both of them have a lot of football to play," coach Dan Quinn said. “I mostly stay in the here and now, but I think one of the things if you were around them on a regular basis, you would see this standard of performance that they both hold themselves accountable to, which in turn holds other people to."

The Falcons have shown no indication that they're preparing for life after Ryan.

The only other quarterback on the 53-man roster is his longtime backup, 39-year-old Matt Schaub. The only QB the team has drafted since acquiring Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in 2008 was long-forgotten Sean Renfree, a 2013 seventh-rounder who made only two appearances in his career.

Ryan hasn't thought about an eventual line of succession in Atlanta.

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot in my career," he said. “Hopefully, I can continue to play at this level for a long time and be here for a long time, but no one knows what the future holds.":

Ryan has made some concessions to age.

“As I’ve gotten a little bit further into my career, I’ve learned that I need to move more often and take less time off," he said. “As counter-intuitive as that sounds, I just need to keep moving and so it might not be as intense all of the time, but I’m definitely more active more regularly than I’ve ever been."

Ryan has more weapons at his disposal this season with the addition of running back Todd Gurley and tight end Hayden Hurst. Also, the team is heading into its second season with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, which should make things go a bit smoother.

“I feel like he is much more comfortable calling things," Ryan said. “It's second nature to him."

The Falcons open this pandemic-affected season Sunday by hosting the Seattle Seahawks. No fans will be allowed at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll hasn't seen any drop-off in Ryan's performance, though he does toss around some descriptions that are befitting an older quarterback.

“He's a statesman in this league," Carroll said. “He knows everything. He knows how to make all the calls, all the adjustments, all the reads. He can make all the throws. He's a classic NFL quarterback, and he's played like that for a long time."

A senior citizen, one might say.

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