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Drew Brees aiming to return to lineup Sunday against Arizona Cardinals

On one hand, Drew Brees' right thumb isn't quite yet 100 percent.

He said the total healing process from surgery to repair the torn ligament is three months, and since the time frame from surgery (Sept. 18 to now) doesn't quite encompass that, well, it'd be impossible for the thumb to be 100 percent.

"I'm getting there," Brees said with a smile.

But as for the prospect of the New Orleans Saints' future Hall of Famer starting at quarterback Sunday when the Saints (6-1) play Arizona (3-3-1) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there seemed Wednesday to be a bit more surety there.

Not quite 100 percent, Brees might agree, but apparently leaning more heavily toward that side of the equation than the other.

"That's the plan," Brees said.

"Just making sure I can be me," he said.

"I'll tell (Coach) Sean (Payton) if I'm ready, and he'll believe me," he added.

And if that's the case, Brees, who last played in the first quarter of New Orleans' 27-9 loss to the Rams on Sept. 15, will rejoin the lineup for a team that has won five straight and sits atop the NFC South Division standings.

"It's making sure that it's healed correctly, he's got the strength and all those things necessary," Payton said in a conference call with media who cover the Cardinals. "It's on your throwing hand, and your thumb is almost 50 percent of that. We'll assess it day-by-day here and keep everyone posted toward the week's end. We might have to wait until Sunday to see if he's playing or not."

If the benchmark is Brees feeling like himself, then Brees said that he pretty much is there.

"Yeah, I do," he said. "But I've got to get into practice, get some live reps. I just need some competition."

Brees will wear a splint on his thumb, and has an internal brace, each of which is designed to provide stability and support.

"I think it's just that balance of, do I need both, can I get away without the splint," he said. "Those decisions will be made as we go along here."

Brees said what would prevent him from rejoining the lineup would be if he feels the ball isn't coming out the way it needs to, or if he's not as comfortable, confident and accurate as he needs to feel.

Otherwise, he appears poised to end his five-game absence, the longest he ever has gone without playing football.

"I've missed one game in my career before this, and that was back in '15," he said, referring to a shoulder injury that forced him to the sideline for Week 3, against Carolina. The other two games Brees missed were regular-season finales, when the Saints had clinched the No. 1 playoff seed ('09 and '18).

"So 26 years of football, only missed one game. That was unchartered territory for me. I can't say I necessarily enjoyed it when it happened. But there's perspective that comes along with that, and a silver lining. Find a way to be better as a result of it."

And Payton said that the fact that the Saints have a bye following Sunday wouldn't play a part in Brees' possible return.

"That's something a lot of people from the outside-in say, 'Well, let's rest him one more week and then we have a bye week,'" Payton said. "Look, if he's ready to play, he's ready to play. This game is an important game, just as the first game after the bye is important."

In Brees' absence, Teddy Bridgewater effectively has directed the Saints' offense. Bridgewater completed 115 of 165 passes (69.7 percent) for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns, with two interceptions, during the five-game winning streak.

The Saints also have shone defensively (18.4 points per game allowed, and 257 or fewer yards allowed in four straight games) and on special teams.

"I think (Bridgewater) has done a phenomenal job," Brees said. "I think he's done a great job. I've watched our team get better and better and I think that's been the most gratifying thing for me just being a part of this team. Just knowing that the sky's the limit and we continue to get better and better in all phases.

"I've seen our defense step up and become one of the best defenses in the league, and watched our special teams do some of the things that they've done. Just watching that all come together and then offensively, a lot of guys involved, finding a lot of ways to win, that's been great as well. Just watching everyone grow, watching everyone come together."

Bridgewater said that, per the usual, he will continue to focus on the process.

"If you focus on the process well enough, it'll produce results," he said.

He said he hasn't reflected on the previous five weeks, and isn't likely to do so at the moment.

"Each week for me is just all about the next one," Bridgewater said. "The next game is the most important game to me because it's the next game. I can't think about what happened the last five weeks – I'll probably do that over the bye week or something. But each week we're facing a new opponent; you don't want to hang on to victories too long in this league. It's all about moving forward.

"I'll just continue to live in the moment, focus on the moment. Everything runs its course and everything happens for a reason, and it happens according to God's plan. I'm just going to continue to approach each day with the same mind-set, and it's about getting better."

Brees, who said he has been throwing an NFL football for about two weeks, said his time on the side allowed him to gain a different perspective.

"It's been difficult, any time you get injured, because you feel like you're working so hard just to get back to baseline, just to get back to where you were before," he said. "But I always look for a silver lining, and I think you do gain perspective, especially maybe from the quarterback position, seeing it maybe from a different angle.

"Preparing to start a game, you're so locked in and you've got your routine. Especially game day, you're so focused on – I don't ever see our defense during the course of a game because when our drive is done, I come to the sideline, I pick up the tablet and I'm sitting there just looking at plays, thinking about the next series and glancing up at the Jumbotron every now and then to watch. And special teams, too, for that matter.

"Standing on the sideline, you really get to see it all from a different perspective and just a lot of the interactions. Things that are taking place that just makes you appreciate being a part of this team and what we have, in regards to just the type of guys and the level of communication. We've got a great team. Guys love to work hard, guys love to play for one another. It makes you want to win for the guy next to you.

"So I've been trying to get back as quickly as I can. I understand this takes time, as far as the healing process. Just to be back at practice, getting back into the swing of things, has been really good."

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