The New Orleans Saints designated Drew Brees to return to practice Wednesday, clearing a pathway for the future Hall of Fame quarterback to return to game action as soon as this week. New Orleans could certainly use Brees in its Week 15 showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the Saints aren't rushing him back -- even with home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs still in play.
"We haven't ruled anything out just because we don't have to," Saints head coach Sean Payton said Wednesday, via ESPN's Mike Triplett. "He's got a ways to go still, and he's someone we're not gonna just hurry back and just put him in the game.
"I think the significance of the injuries are such that you've gotta make sure he can function and feel confident."
Brees is recovering from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung, missing the last four games for the Saints. New Orleans has gone 3-1 in Brees' absence, with quarterback Taysom Hill doing a solid job in his place. Hill has completed 72.3% of his passes for 920 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions this season, while rushing for 395 yards and five touchdowns (5.4 yards per carry). Hill has rushed for multiple touchdowns in two of his four starts.
While Hill has been solid -- if unspectacular -- the Saints have lost their stranglehold on the top seed in the conference thanks to Sunday's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. New Orleans has the same record as the Green Bay Packers at 10-3, but Green Bay owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to the Packers' victory over the Saints earlier this year.
The Saints will take their time with their future Hall of Fame quarterback, knowing a healthy Brees for the playoffs is just as valuable as home-field advantage. New Orleans can't win the Super Bowl without Brees. For the time being, the Saints will settle with Hill -- who's getting more comfortable in the offense by the week.
"Having plans for our offense, and my ability then to get the play call, stick to the play call, get in a huddle, call it so we have better tempo, and just the mechanics of operating inside this Coach Payton offense which, frankly, is not an easy thing to do," Hill said on mastering the Saints' offense. "And as you get here, as a new quarterback, we're all trying to play catch up to Drew (Brees) and Coach (Payton), they have been together for so long so there is a steep learning curve there.
"So I'd say overall, just having a better feel of what we're trying to accomplish on each individual play and our rhythm, tempo and everything that goes along with that."