January 18, 2022

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Fit And Go Forward

New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees set to start vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Michael Thomas ruled out

METAIRIE, La. — Drew Brees is set to return to the New Orleans Saints’ starting lineup in time for Sunday’s marquee matchup against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, according to coach Sean Payton.

Payton said Friday that the plan is for Brees to start Sunday.

“He’s looked good. He feels good,” Payton said. “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.”

The news wasn’t so good for star receiver Michael Thomas.

Thomas was ruled out Friday after not practicing all week due to a lingering ankle injury. Thomas had played through the injury since returning to the lineup in Week 9.

As for Brees, the Saints believe he is fully healthy and doctors have cleared him to play, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Brees, 41, returned to practice this week after missing four games because of 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Asked if there was any consideration that Brees could benefit from more time to heal, Payton said, “We wouldn’t be playing him if he wasn’t healthy and able to function and feeling good and recovered.”

This will be the first meeting between Brees and Mahomes as their teams angle for the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences.

The Saints (10-3) went 3-1 in Brees’ absence with Taysom Hill as their starting quarterback. They suffered a 24-21 loss at Philadelphia last week, which currently leaves them in line for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. (The 10-3 Green Bay Packers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker.)

With Brees back in the starting lineup, Jameis Winston will continue to be the Saints’ No. 2 quarterback, with Hill playing his jack-of-all trades role, including some plays at QB, a source told Schefter.

Brees has always taken pride in trying to beat the doctors’ projected timetables when it comes to recovering from injuries. But he could have even more incentive than usual in this, his 20th season, since it might be his last.

Although Brees has never made any announcement about when he plans to retire, sources have told Schefter that he is expected to do so after this season. Payton has also hinted that the Saints are preparing for that possibility when talking about the team’s long-term quarterback outlook. Brees already has a post-playing career lined up as an analyst for NBC.

Until last year, Brees had missed only one game in his NFL career due to injury. But he missed five games in 2019 because of a torn ligament in his thumb and four more games this year.

Brees suffered the punctured lung and some of the broken ribs during a Week 10 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He played the final eight minutes of the first half — and completed two touchdown drives — before he was unable to keep playing after halftime.

Doctors believe the rest of his broken ribs occurred a week earlier in the Saints’ Week 9 win at Tampa Bay.

Although Brees faced scrutiny over his lack of downfield throws early this season, he and the Saints bounced back in impressive fashion after a 1-2 start. He ranks third in the NFL in Total QBR (80.1) with 18 touchdown passes, three interceptions, a league-leading 73.5% completion percentage and 2,196 passing yards.

The Saints will have two games in six days over the next week. They are scheduled to host the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day.

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