New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton reportedly exited the NFL's COVID-19 protocols and returned to the team facility Friday morning.
Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune reported Payton, who missed Sunday's 9-0 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was "cleared to resume head coaching duties" ahead of Monday night's Week 16 game against the Miami Dolphins.
Payton, who's fully vaccinated, entered COVID protocols last Friday following a positive test result.
While NFL rules call for a baseline 10-day absence, a vaccinated individual can return sooner than that if he has two negative tests over a 24-hour period. Payton's return after seven days means he met those guidelines.
It's the second time Payton tested positive for COVID-19. He became one of the first high-profile American sports figures to enter quarantine in March 2020 during the virus' first wave in the United States.
"You fatigue real easy," he told Jarrett Bell of USA Today about his symptoms the first time. "I'd be up moving around, doing something, then you'd want to lay down again. That lasted three or four days. By the time I got the test results back I had begun feeling better. I had my appetite back."
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen served as the interim head coach in the win over the Bucs, so it was fitting that New Orleans became the first team to shut out a Tom Brady-led offense in 15 years.
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael confirmed Payton remained involved in the game-planning process despite being away from the facility.
"It's more communication with phone calls," Carmichael said Thursday. "He has an opportunity to watch film at home and get with us [coaches] to discuss plays or certain ideas. So, obviously not being here is a little bit different, but I think he's doing his own work as well."
Getting Payton back will be as a welcome sight for the Saints as they try to secure a playoff berth during the final weeks of the regular season.
The Saints are currently ninth in the NFC standings with a 7-7 record. They're tied with the Minnesota Vikings, who hold the seventh and final playoff position in the conference, and the Philadelphia Eagles, but they sit behind those teams based on tiebreakers.
New Orleans likely needs to win at least two of its final three games, and potentially all three—matchups with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons follow Monday's meeting with Miami—to qualify for the postseason.