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Garoppolo impression helps Patriots prepare for Falcons

By Steve Keating

HOUSTON (Reuters) - At the start of the season New England Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo was the man in the spotlight doing his best Tom Brady impersonation.

At the Super Bowl this week Garoppolo has retreated into the background, doing his best impersonation of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and leaving center stage to Brady, who will lead the Patriots against the Falcons in Sunday's championship game.

Such is the life of an NFL backup quarterback; leading man one day, understudy the next.

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But being a backup for Brady comes with perks not normally associated with the job.

If the Patriots win on Sunday, Garoppolo would collect his second Super Bowl ring, more than the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Saints' Drew Brees, despite having never thrown a pass or even taken a snap in the National Football League's title tilt.

Garoppolo's role this week is well defined.

He will be play the part of Ryan during practice preparing the New England defense to face the Falcons' top-ranked attack and on Sunday will take his usual position on the sidelines holding a clipboard.

"I'm Matt Ryan this week so I am trying to do my best Matt Ryan impression, get the ball to his playmakers and let them make plays," Garoppolo told a small group of reporters off to the side of the media mob surrounding Brady at Super Bowl Opening Night festivities.

This season, Garoppolo's contribution to the Patriots effort was more substantial than mimicking opposing quarterbacks.

With Brady suspended for the first four games of the regular season for his part in the Deflategate scandal, Garoppolo was given the job of keeping New England in contention until their future Hall of Fame quarterback had done his time.

The second-round pick in the 2014 draft, Garoppolo had spent his short NFL career watching Brady and not surprisingly looked like him steering the Patriots to wins in their opening two games over the Cardinals and Dolphins before going down with a shoulder injury himself.

"In this league you might never get an opportunity so to have an opportunity like that you have to be thankful for it and go take advantage of it," explained Garoppolo. "A lot of guys have stepped up and I know it sounds cliché but it's the Patriot Way."

With 39-year-old Brady saying, "I don't see any end in sight," to his playing days, speculation is the Patriots might flip Garoppolo, 25, for a high draft pick.

The Cleveland Browns, who have been on a quarterback carousel, are rumored to be interested in making a deal that would set Garoppolo up for a massive pay hike.

"I'm really trying not to (think about a trade)," smiled Garoppolo. "Right now it is just focusing on the Super Bowl."

(Editing by Larry Fine)