ATLANTA — With his Atlanta Falcons off last weekend, Matt Ryan was watching TV when New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees took a hit in the team's win against the San Francisco 49ers.
Immediately, Ryan knew the script had changed for the Falcons' game this Sunday in New Orleans. He knew the Saints' prolific passer wouldn't be playing in the latest renewal of this NFC South rivalry.
Brees, 41, sustained multiple fractured ribs and a collapsed right lung. Either multipurpose athlete Taysom Hill or former Tampa Bay Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston is expected to get the nod at quarterback for division leader New Orleans (7-2) against Atlanta (3-6) in a series the Falcons lead 53-49 despite losing four of the past five meetings. Whether Hill or Winston starts, the Saints could wind up using both behind center.
What the Saints are going through is a reminder of how rarely the Falcons have faced such a dilemma since taking Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
"I'm very proud of the fact that in the better part of 13 years, I've only missed three games," Ryan said.
Ryan has started 198 of a possible 201 regular-season games, in addition to 10 postseason games, in his NFL career. He missed two games with a turf toe injury in 2009, then made 154 consecutive starts before missing one game last season with a high ankle sprain.
Ryan's ability to avoid injuries has provided the offense great continuity in wide receiver Julio Jones' 10 seasons.
"Matt has only missed one game since I've been here," Jones said. "You know what you're going to get. It's not like you've got to worry about somebody else."
Jones said the stability Ryan provides allows him to relax and focus on running his routes and making catches. He doesn't have to worry about making adjustments to a backup quarterback.
"Football, the biggest thing is not having to think for somebody else," Jones said. "You've got to be able to go out there and do your job and be able to play free and without hesitation."
Ryan's record of durability has enabled him to set 21 franchise passing records, including career marks for yards, completions and touchdown passes. The injury to Brees, though, reminded the 35-year-old Ryan he can't take good health for granted.
"You hate seeing it," Ryan said. "I was actually watching the game at home and saw the hit. By his reaction getting up, we've all been there. You kind of know when somebody has body language that something's not right."
Ryan's durability and leadership have helped the Falcons attempt to revive what seemed to be a lost season this fall. They are 3-1 under interim head coach Raheem Morris after an 0-5 start that led to the firings of coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Ryan has completed 72.8% (107 of 147) of his passes for 1,274 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in the four games under Morris.
"Matt is a great competitor, really as good as there is in this league or in the world," second-year right guard Chris Lindstrom said. "It's an honor to play for someone like that and to block for him. When you go out there and see what he's putting out every day, it sets a standard for where you need to be, looking at myself."