Drew Brees plans to return to Saints practice this week

New Orleans rolled into Chicago on Sunday afternoon and sent the Bears into hibernation, without its starting quarterback, running back and tight end. By this time next week, the Saints could have all three back in uniform.

Following New Orleans' 36-25 victory over the Bears, sidelined quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN's Mike Triplett that he expects to return to practice this week and hopes to play next Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Brees has been out since midway through Week 2 when he tore ligaments in his throwing thumb and immediately underwent surgery. The timeline for the QB's return was pegged at six weeks following the surgery. A Week 8 start would be line with that schedule.

The Saints signal-caller has made incremental steps back to normalcy in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, he posted video of himself throwing Nerf-sized footballs. Last Thursday, Brees told WWL Radio he had graduated to tossing an NFL-regulation ball.

If and when he does come back, Brees will return wearing a splint on his right hand, per doctor's orders. When that will be remains to be seen.

The Saints need not rush the QB back at this point. New Orleans is 5-0 with Teddy Bridgewater starting in Brees' absence, and while the backup doesn't boast the starter's pedigree as a winner or leader, Bridgewater has steadily improved as the season has progressed. Including Sunday's romp over the Bears, Bridgewater has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,370 yards, nine TDs and two picks.

Plus, New Orleans has a bye following its Week 8 matchup with the 3-3-1 Cardinals. If the Saints want to slow-play Brees' return more than necessary, they can give him over seven weeks to heal and then start him against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10.

Whether or not Brees is under center next week or the second in November is unclear. Regardless, Brees sounds mentally ready to return to game action and to a team and coaching staff that has performed outside themselves in his absence.

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