The results of medical evaluations performed Monday on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees revealed that he has multiple rib fractures on both sides of his chest and a collapsed lung on the right side, according to a source.
Brees is unsure how much time he might be forced to miss before returning to start for the Saints, the source said.
Brees is suffering from three fractured ribs on his left side and two on the right, possibly more, according to the source. Doctors have cautioned Brees to be especially careful with the damage to his lung.
The two broken ribs on his right side occurred in the first half of the Saints' victory over the San Francisco 49ers, a game that backup Jameis Winston finished after Brees determined he could not play the second half because he was having difficulty breathing.
The three fractured ribs on the left side are believed to have occurred in the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. They did not show up as such on the X-ray performed at the time, possibly because of inflammation, but they were clearly seen on the CAT scan performed Monday.
Doctors performing the evaluation believe the right-side fractures might have punctured the quarterback's lung Sunday, creating a pneumothorax. That is what caused Brees' difficulty breathing in the game and resulted in him informing head coach Sean Payton that he could not play the second half against the 49ers.
Brees will send his scans to other medical specialists for a second opinion as he seeks to determine the full scope of his injuries. The opinion of additional doctors will help the Saints determine whether Brees should be placed on injured reserve, a designation that would result in him missing at least three games.
The most optimistic timetable for a return is two to three weeks, but the people involved are prepared for it to be longer, a source told ESPN's Dan Graziano. It will depend on how long Brees' injuries take to heal, which varies from patient to patient, and when the Saints are convinced he is able to take a hit without risk of serious re-injury. There is hope that he will return in time for the playoffs.
Brees took to Instagram later Monday night to give fans optimism that he "will be back in no time."
The Saints listed Brees on their injury report last week with a shoulder injury, and that was causing enough pain that Brees was apparently unaware of the rib injury he had suffered against the Bucs. That was believed to have happened in the second quarter.
Payton on Monday declined to offer any updates on Brees' injury status or who might replace him at quarterback if he misses time.
"Wednesday is our first day that we're required to [report injuries]. And to be fair to the process, let's stick with that," said Payton, who said he wouldn't announce the starting quarterback until late in the week.
"None of it benefits us by announcing that player earlier than later," Payton said. "I wouldn't project or answer that in any way. We'll see how this week unfolds."
However, it would stand to reason that the Saints would stick with Winston in the short term, since he was the one who filled in for Brees on Sunday -- and since the Saints went with Teddy Bridgewater as their replacement during Brees' five-game absence last year.
Although the Saints do consider Taysom Hill as a potential long-term option at quarterback, they would have to change their offense more significantly to suit his unique skill set as a runner/passer. And they like to use him as a playmaker in their offense at QB/RB/WR/TE/FB.
Payton reiterated Monday that he thought Winston did "a good job" during the second half of Sunday's game. Winston completed 6 of 10 passes for 63 yards with zero TDs and zero turnovers. He had a couple of errant throws, including one that was nearly intercepted. However, he did lead the Saints to a field goal and a touchdown in the 27-13 victory over the 49ers.
"Both he and Taysom have a good feel for what we're trying to do. They pick things up. And I feel like it's a good room," Payton said.
ESPN's Mike Triplett contributed to this report.