Neither the Ravens nor the San Diego Chargers like talking about it. A locker room can be a superstitious place, so why risk jinxing a luxury very few teams enjoy and certainly don't take for granted?
Since 2006, the Chargers have not started a game without Philip Rivers under center. Since 2008, the Ravens haven't had to plan for a game without Joe Flacco as their starting quarterback.
"Durability is every bit as important as ability," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You can be the most talented guy in the world, but if you're not there to do the job, it really doesn't matter."
The Ravens and Chargers — two 7-4 teams — will play in a key AFC game Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, with the winner taking another step toward the postseason, familiar territory for both.
Since becoming a full-time starter, Rivers has led San Diego to the playoffs five times in eight seasons, in which time the Chargers have finished with a losing record just once. With Flacco, the Ravens have gone to the playoffs in five of six seasons, won a Super Bowl and never finished below .500.
There are a number of factors that help explain the sustained success of the two teams, but maybe none is more important than the stability and durability of their respective quarterbacks. In a league in which quarterbacks are injured or benched on a weekly basis, Rivers, 32, will start his 140th consecutive regular-season game Sunday, while Flacco, 29, will make his 108th consecutive start.
Among active quarterbacks, they have the NFL's second- and third-longest streaks of consecutive starts, trailing just the New York Giants' Eli Manning, who will make his 163rd regular-season start in a row Sunday, against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It's always great when you have a great quarterback," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "That's [what] a franchise quarterback [is] on your team. It gives you an opportunity week in and week out to go out and compete at a very high level and do it the way you know you want it to be done."
This week alone, eight teams will start a quarterback who wasn't their Week 1 starter, and two other teams — the Houston Texans and New York Jets — will return to previously benched signal callers.
This season, 13 of 32 teams have started more than one quarterback, and three teams — the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans — have had three starters.
Meanwhile, the last time the Chargers started another quarterback was Dec. 31, 2005, Drew Brees' final game with San Diego.
"It's a blessing, really, that I've been able to be out there every week. It's as much that as it is anything," said Rivers, who also started an NCAA-record 51 consecutive games at North Carolina State. "Growing up around the game, my dad being a coach, I do take pride in having a little bit of the toughness element that you do all you can to be out there every week. But I've been blessed to be healthy enough to do that. … If you can perform and play at a level that helps give your team a chance, then I feel like I'll be out there every week. Obviously, there are certain circumstances that you can't help, but thankfully, I haven't had one of those yet."
The Ravens had 15 starting quarterbacks over their first 12 seasons. They've had just one in the seven seasons since. Troy Smith was the last quarterback before Flacco to start a game — and that was on Dec. 30, 2007, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Flacco makes it sound like his consecutive-games streak — which is 120 and counting if you consider his 13 playoff appearances — is just dumb luck. He didn't attribute it to his toughness, even as some of his teammates did.
"You can't say that you're a quarterback and you're tough. You're a quarterback; you're not tough. I mean, you're a quarterback," Flacco said, drawing laughs. "I play quarterback for a reason. I probably wasn't tough enough to play those other positions, and that's just the bottom line. So you have to go out there, and if there is a time here or there where you can at least be proud of what you did, you have to make sure you do that."
Flacco and Rivers don't know each other very well, but they spent part of the week expressing their mutual admiration. On the surface, their personalties are polar opposites.
Fiery and emotional, Rivers willingly engages in conversation with opponents and has no problem admonishing teammates on the field. Flacco is low-key and almost expressionless. While Rivers took his helmet off earlier this season and, in a fit of frustration after a bad series, yelled into its embedded speaker, Flacco said a couple of weeks ago that "he doesn't say anything to anyone."
But the two have an obvious similarity: the pride they take in being out there every week.
"I've been playing against Philip since college. He's been a tough guy [and] he ain't changed one bit," said Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith, who played at Georgia Tech. "He stays in there and he gets better every game. That's one of the things about Joe, too. They're known for their toughness. You keep guys around like that, that keep getting stronger."
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith credited Rivers' and Flacco's streaks partly to their quarterbacking styles.
"If you look at the history of mobile quarterbacks, the mobility makes them exceptional and it's an advantage, but I think, long term, it's a disadvantage for them," Smith said. "It puts them in harm's way a little bit when they're too mobile. That goes into the streak that I think Joe and Philip have. They look to throw the ball first. They rarely try to run. They lower the risks of taking major hits."
That's not to say there haven't been close calls. Flacco played the final two games last season on a sprained knee. He also went into the 2009 AFC wild-card playoff game against the New England Patriots with a significant hip bruise.
"That was the only one that [him playing] was really up in the air, that I can recall," Harbaugh said.
As for Rivers, he reportedly has been playing through a rib injury in recent weeks, which he and the Chargers have downplayed. But for him, playing hurt is old hat. Rivers played the entire 2007 AFC championship game against the Patriots with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
"That's what football is all about," Flacco said. "It's not the fact that he's not missed a game; it's not necessarily that that impresses you. It's the fact that he has been hurt in certain instances and has played through it. I think that's what football is all about — that's part of it. And it's definitely cool to see those guys that are still out there that are willing to do that stuff."