METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees has been designated to return to practice, but New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said the quarterback still has "a ways to go" in his recovery from 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung.
"We haven't ruled anything just because we don't have to," Payton told reporters after Wednesday's practice when asked if there is a chance that Brees could play Sunday. "He's got a ways to go still, and he's someone we're not gonna just hurry back and just put him in the game.
"I think the significance of the injuries are such that you've gotta make sure he can function and feel confident."
That matches what league sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Sunday: that the Saints would not rush to bring Brees back in Week 15 unless he made a full recovery, was able to throw without limitations and had complete range of motion.
Brees, however, suggested that he is getting closer to a return in his weekly Sunday night interview with Cox Sports Television.
"Each week I feel better," Brees told CST. "I obviously have a plan in place as to the benchmarks that I need to hit in order to get to where I know that I can play and play effectively for this team. And all I can say is I'm close.
"There's a recovery element. There's a strength element. And I'll know when that time comes."
Wednesday's official designation to return from injured reserve is a positive sign in Brees' recovery. It means he can resume practicing with the team, and it starts a three-week clock for the Saints to return him to the active 53-man roster.
Brees has missed four games because of the injury, with backup Taysom Hill going 3-1 as the starter in his place. Hill's first loss came this past Sunday at Philadelphia -- and put the Saints (10-3) behind the Green Bay Packers (10-3) in the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed because of a head-to-head tiebreaker.
The Saints will have two games in six days in the next week. They are scheduled to host the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day.
ESPN's Adam Teicher contributed to this report.