The dink-and-dunk era is not here: Saints still searching for big plays _lowres

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Drew Brees doesn’t plan to miss another start.

Brees spent his weekend in Carolina walking the Saints’ sideline, trying to mentally take every snap as Luke McCown led New Orleans against the Panthers, living and dying and reacting to each twist and turn in the game. He’d much rather be on the field.

The good news is that Brees’ bruised rotator cuff is cooperating with the Saints quarterback. Brees, emboldened by a meeting with Dr. James Andrews on Monday and a Tuesday throwing session, returned to practice Wednesday, throwing the football as much as he could as he targets a return against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

“I took most of the reps,” Brees said. “Felt good, good enough to do that, so we’ll just continue to ramp up with volume and intensity as the week goes on.”

Brees said he can deal with any pain the shoulder gives him.

The key is regaining strength. Brees decided he needed to sit for the first time in his decade in New Orleans because he didn’t have the velocity to make all the throws downfield; after he took the hit against Tampa Bay, the deep ball was his biggest problem.

Brees didn’t offer a definitive answer on how much he threw down the field Wednesday.

“I mean, I was going to temper my enthusiasm with some of the stuff,” Brees said. “Just be smart, and just make sure it’s one of these ramp-ups, and it’s not zero to 60.”

Beyond the deep ball, the chief question Brees must answer to himself is whether his shoulder is ready for game action.

Throwing a football is a much different act in the heat of the moment. By practicing this week, Brees hopes to put his shoulder in all the awkward places it might have to function during a game against the Cowboys.

“When you’re in the pocket, you have to react quickly. There’s times where you have to throw maybe just a little bit off balance,” Brees said. “We call them funny-body throws, where all of a sudden you’ve got to drop down and rip one sidearm. There’s elements to that where you’ve got to put different stresses on the shoulder, so you have to experience those things before you get into live action.”

Brees plans to take as many reps as he can in the Saints’ practices Thursday and Friday. So far, his shoulder has made steady, daily progress ever since the hit, and Brees has no reason to believe his progression will slow down.

New Orleans needs to know its franchise quarterback can do every bit of the job, and the sense of urgency to get Brees back hasn’t changed because of McCown’s impressive performance in relief last week.

“He needs to be healthy, and we’ll play him,” coach Sean Payton said. “If he’s not, we won’t. Especially at his position, it’s not where ‘He’s going to play, but he’s only 80 percent.’ That’s something we would never do, regardless of how the No. 2 or No. 3 are playing.”

A decision on Brees’ status will likely come by the end of the week.

Brees doesn’t like the concept of a game-time decision. He’d rather not force coaches and teammates to spend the entire weekend wondering whether he’s going to play. That’s why the Saints decided to announce Brees was out of action last Friday. Brees wanted to make sure the team knew what it was facing against Carolina.

His plans haven’t changed this week. If he feels close by the end of the week, Brees plans to make a decision, and the eternally optimistic quarterback said he believes he’ll be back in action.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Brees said. “I feel really good about Sunday. That’s four days away. I feel like I’ll just continue to make progress, and I’ll go from there.”