"Our plan is to play him, our plan is to start him."
And with that, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton on Friday told local media that quarterback Drew Brees is back in the lineup, for Sunday's game against Kansas City in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Brees missed four games with fractured ribs and a punctured lung. The Saints (10-3) won three of the four with Taysom Hill starting at quarterback, and clinched a playoff berth in the process. New Orleans still is one victory, or a Tampa Bay loss, from clinching its fourth consecutive NFC South Division title.
Brees was on the reserve/injured list this week and was designated to return to practice, but also had worked last week. This week, he was able to participate in every practice. Prior to leaving the lineup at halftime against San Francisco on Nov. 15, Brees completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 2,196 yards and 18 touchdowns, with three interceptions.
"He's looked good," Payton said. "He feels good. We were encouraged at the start of the week. We wanted to see how it felt as he went through a full practice week, and he's done a good job.
"We wouldn't be playing him if he wasn't healthy and able to function and feeling good and recovered."
Brees' presence should have a positive influence on the offensive line, as well. Hill was sacked five times in the Saints' 24-21 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, and has been sacked 14 times overall. Brees' ability to quickly dissect and get rid of the ball can be helpful against pressure; in 8.5 games, he was sacked 10 times.
"Any time we're talking about someone with the experience and understanding of all the different looks, and Kansas City presents those, that's a benefit," Payton said. "He's had a good week. All those guys have, and we're ready to go."
Payton said that Hill, who completed 72 percent of his passes for 834 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions, accomplished the primary goal of a starter.
"The No. 1 thing – the No. 1 thing – was winning," Payton said. "And we were able to win three of four of those games. Obviously, it was encouraging and you kind of go from there.
"He did a good job. He came in and won three in a row. When you put depth on your roster, you hope that with an injury, the next person up can still give you a chance to win and be successful. And to credit Taysom, he did that."