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Ryan among league's quarterback ironmen
Falcons Seahawks Foot Heal 1
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan fires downfield against the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of last week's game in Seattle. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga.  — The opening question to Matt Ryan's weekly news conference made the quarterback nervous.

When he was asked about his long streak of consecutive starts, Ryan almost gasped.

"I have to find some wood to knock on first," Ryan said before adding, "That's the kiss of death."

Ryan hasn't missed a start for the Atlanta Falcons in 105 consecutive regular-season games, a streak that began late in the 2009 season. It's the NFL's third-longest active streak for quarterbacks.

On Sunday Ryan will be matched with the name immediately ahead of him on the list, San Diego's Philip Rivers, whose streak began in 2006 and reached 166 regular-season starts withlast week's win over Denver.

Among active quarterbacks, Eli Manning leads the ironman list with his streak of 189 games, well behind Brett Favre's record of 297.

Rivers is known for his quick release, a skill which helps reduce hits from pass rushers.

"I just feel thankful I've been blessed to be healthy enough to play," Rivers said Wednesday. "... I think all of us quarterbacks take a certain amount of pride in being tough and fighting through things to make sure you are out there for your team."

Ryan said his secret is sleep — at least nine hours per night.

"There's no getting around it, sleep is the No. 1 most important thing," Ryan said Wednesday. "Every study that you look at, every time you try to do any research on recovery, on training, whatever, any kind of performance-enhancing stuff, it all comes down to sleep."

Ryan, 31, acknowledged "it takes effort" to maintain his sleep schedule.

"You've got to force yourself to go to bed early," he said. "It's just something I've worked on throughout my career and I've gotten better and better. I'm an early to bed kind of guy and up early in the morning."

Rivers, 34, had a good explanation for why he aims lower when it comes to sleep.

"I do think rest is important, but also I have eight children," Rivers said. "In my mind, if I get over 6 hours, I'm in good shape."

Ryan started every game in his 2008 rookie season, missed two starts with a toe injury in 2009 and hasn't missed another game.

"You have to do a really good job of taking care of your body all year," Ryan said. "It starts from when the season ends and it's basically a never-ending process throughout the year of trying to take care of yourself and ensure you're going to be ready to take the pounding that comes with going through a season."

Coach Dan Quinn said Ryan shines in his "CT score" for "competes and toughs."

"It's when you throw a slant when the defensive end is right about to drill you and then you step into it and make it anyway," Quinn said. "That's why Matt has earned so much respect through the years, and Philip as well."

Chargers coach Mike McCoy said Ryan and Rivers share a love for the game that helps to keep them on the field.

"They're competitors who truly love to go out and play the game," McCoy said. "They work extremely hard. I've known coaches who have coached Matt. Everyone says his work ethic, the way he loves the game, the way he prepares, that's the way Phillip is, too. They do it the right way, and that's what the great ones in the game do."