FLOWERY BRANCH — There's no question Boston is Tom Brady's town, but another favorite son is returning for what he hopes will be a successful homecoming.
Former Boston College standout Matt Ryan returns to Foxborough on Sunday as a rising star for the Atlanta Falcons, who will face Brady's New England Patriots.
Ryan, the 2008 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, has enjoyed a strong start for the 2-0 Falcons and is coming off his first career game with three touchdown passes.
Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli predicted on Wednesday that Ryan's No. 2 jersey "will be everywhere" at Gillette Stadium. Ryan wasn't so certain.
"I'm sure there will be some people from up there who remember the time at BC and were fans of BC, but having said that, they are loyal fans up there, too," Ryan said. "They love their Patriots. I'm not expecting to see too many No. 2 jerseys running around up there."
Ryan added that Boston "is certainly a place that I love, and I had a great experience in college."
Ryan said he never visited a Patriots practice while at Boston College and has never met Brady. But he said he relished the chance to watch Brady win two Super Bowls during his time at BC.
"It was pretty cool to watch, no doubt about it," Ryan said. "They had a great run while I was in college. His play was certainly unbelievable. It was a great time to be a quarterback in that area, to be a college quarterback and to watch what Tom was doing.
I've always been impressed with how well he has played and how he has handled himself."
Ryan impressed with his play and cool demeanor last year, when he started every game as a rookie and led the Falcons to 11 wins and a playoff berth.
He is on pace to improve on 2008, when he completed 61 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Through two wins, he has completed 68.3 percent (43 of 63) for 449 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
"His jump from last year to this year couldn't have been that big because of where he was before," said Falcons center Todd McClure. "But every year he can get better and that's scary because he's already a pretty good player."
The Falcons were a run-first offense last season, but have more balance with tight end Tony Gonzalez, who already has two touchdown catches. Ryan set a career high with three TD passes, including one to Gonzalez, in last week's 28-20 win over Carolina.
New England rookie defensive lineman Ron Brace, who played with Ryan at Boston College, said he has no answer if Patriots teammates ask how to stop the kid quarterback.
"I'm actually trying to figure that out myself right now," Brace said. "... Hopefully, we can find something. I'm digging deep in my BC roots to try to find something."
Brace called Ryan "a real tough, physical, smart football player and a really big weapon, as you can see in Atlanta right now."
The Falcons call Ryan their franchise player.
"I said at the end of last year it's going to be scary to see what can happen if Matt Ryan gets better," Mughelli said. "There's a lot of pressure with that, but pressure doesn't faze him. That's the kind of leader we need."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he "saw quite a bit" of Ryan's success at Boston College, where he was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2007 and the No. 3 overall pick by the Falcons in the 2008 draft.
"He's an impressive player," Belichick said. "... As a player he does all the things you want a quarterback to do. He manages the team, throws the ball accurately, makes good decisions, tough, plays smart. He did those things in college and that was reflected in BC's record."
Former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff made Ryan his first draft pick as the Falcons general manager.
"It was a great pick and they've got an outstanding player and he's playing very well," Belichick said.
Mughelli predicted Boston will have a warm reception for Ryan.
"Matt is going to have a lot of fans there," Mughelli said. "He has a lot of fans here in Atlanta, but going back to Boston, I know it's going to be Matt Ryan craziness in a Matt Ryan city. There will be 2s everywhere.
"He won't let that bother him. He's the kind of guy who is so even-keeled it's ridiculous. It won't matter if there's one fan there or hundreds, he's going to play his game and lead us like always."
NOTES: RB Jerious Norwood missed Wednesday's practice after leaving Sunday's game with a head injury. Coach Mike Smith called Norwood, the top backup to Michael Turner, day to day. ... The Falcons listed Thomas Johnson as the new starting defensive tackle after rookie Peria Jerry's season-ending knee injury last week. Smith said Trey Lewis, who started five games last season, and rookie Vance Walker will compete with Johnson. He said defensive end Chauncey Davis will have an "expanded" role.