Even At New Position, Sean Lee Looks Like Old Self In Cowboys’ Win Over Giants
On a personal level, change is a fact that many of us observe at twelve-month intervals. For Sean Lee, change was a process that required nearly two years – or 644 days, to be exact – of waiting to become official.
When Lee last stepped onto a football field, he was the Dallas Cowboys’ middle linebacker on a frigid December evening in 2013 at sloppy Soldier Field.
More than twenty-one months after a neck injury knocked him out of that Monday night loss to the Bears, Lee made his highly anticipated return to the gridiron as the Cowboys’ weak-side linebacker on Sunday Night Football.
It’s no surprise that the 28-year old led the team with nine tackles in Dallas’ 27-26 come-from-behind win over the New York Giants. Nor was the fact that Lee’s presence on perhaps the most critical play helped force a game-altering incompletion from Eli Manning.
This, after all, was the same Lee who had played well as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for first Wade Phillips and then Rob Ryan, and was enjoying a career-year in the middle of Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme in 2013 before succumbing to injuries.
Allowing Bruce Carter to sign a free-agent deal with Tampa Bay in the off-season was a good decision by the Dallas front-office. Replacing him with Lee was an even better one. Lee, at his core, is a football player wrapped in a linebacker’s body. He is one of only a handful of linebackers in the league who can transition seamlessly from one position to another.
Lee’s impact on the field has never been in the same vein as that of Roy Williams. But what he lacks in big-hitting ability he makes up for with uncanny instincts. And though he didn’t post 21 takedowns like he did against Seattle three years ago, or draw cheers from the home crowd for a big hit, Lee influenced the outcome in ways that don’t necessarily translate onto a stat sheet.
He filled holes on running plays, taking fullbacks and tight ends head-on, and forcing the runner into the arms of a teammate. His coverage of New York wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the middle of the field during the second quarter led to Dallas’ only sack of the game by Tyrone Crawford and a Giants punt.
Another impact play came in the second half when Lee corralled running back Rashad Jennings behind the line of scrimmage for a three-yard loss. New York punted again two plays later.
But Lee’s most resounding effort came on a third-and-goal play from the Dallas 1-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. The odds foretold of another handoff from Manning to Jennings, but Lee insisted that the Dallas defense was prepared for anything.
“We didn’t know what they were coming with,” Lee said after the game.
Needing to hold the Giants out of the end-zone to give Tony Romo and the Cowboy offense one last chance to complete the comeback, Lee teamed up with Crawford to chase Manning from the pocket and force a throwaway that not only stopped the clock but compelled the Giants head coach to call for a field goal that put New York ahead by only six points.
That Romo then turned around and marched the Cowboys 72 yards in 89 seconds to grab the victory cemented what was a very memorable and very productive evening for Sean Lee.
“I am sore,” Lee admitted in postgame. “I am sore. It’s the first time I played in a while. But it was fun… That’s going to go down as one of the better wins for me to be a part of.”