. The game was still in the balance, with the New York Giants facing second and 4 with 10 minutes remaining in a tie game at Met Life Stadium.
That was when Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, back in the starting lineup since leaving with a hamstring injury against Atlanta almost a month prior, read an end around from the jump and sprung into action as if he’d been in the Giants’ pre-snap huddle.
Lee blew up the play, tackled Sterling Shepard for a 9-yard loss that forced a third and long and eventual Giants’ punt.
The Cowboys’ offense, suddenly with an air of confidence drove 82 yards on four plays to score the the go-ahead touchdown, a 20-yard scoring reception to Jason Witten from Dak Prescott.
“We talk about that on the sidelines,” said Lee, who had a season-high 18 tackles. “‘Hey, let’s step up, let’s make big plays, this is when you win the game.’ Luckily I was able to make that play.”
Lee stayed home, darted through the line scrimmage and wrapped up Shepard deep in Giants’ territory.
“It was a combination of knowing it could come and then once they snap the ball, you can see it and read it,” he said. “Playing within the defense, knowing I had a chance to take it — that was my responsibility on that play. I made sure I stayed on my keys and I saw it and went and attacked it.”
The loss of running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games has been a gut punch for the Cowboys, but perhaps just as integral to the team’s’ success is the absence of Lee, who has missed seven games and left two others early with hamstring injuries. The Cowboys (7-6) are 1-4 without him.
“His leadership and the impact he has on our football team is really significant,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He is so damn productive.”
Lee iced the win with an interception off a deflection with just over 3 minutes remaining deep in Giants’ territory. It’s Lee’s first interception since 2015.
“I’m just excited to be back. It’s frustrating being out, you feel like you’re letting your teammates down,” said Lee, who took off a series early in the second half. He said the club might give him additional series off the rest of the regular season to help preserve his health. In the moment, it had an eery resemblance of previous injuries that forced Lee out of a game.
“No doubt, appropriately,” Lee said of the worry it may have caused. “It’s been one thing after the next with me and the injuries. The [plan] could change game to game. I know that I have to find way to stay in every game and be a part of every game.”