FRISCO, Texas – Leighton Vander Esch is not expected to play Sunday against the Patriots due to a neck injury, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Friday. (UPDATE 3:22 p.m. -- Vander Esch officially has been ruled out of Sunday's game.)
Garrett said Vander Esch's neck began bothering him Thursday and he went for further evaluation.
Garrett said the team doesn't believe it's a season-ending injury, and he'll be evaluated "week to week and day by day."
"Hopefully we get him back fairly soon," Garrett said. "We think just it needs to calm down and it just needs a little time to do that."
The second-year linebacker played limited snaps against the Eagles on Oct. 20 and was inactive against the Giants on Nov. 4 following the bye week due to a neck stinger – the first game he's missed in his young NFL career.
Vander Esch started the last two games against Minnesota and Detroit and practiced the first two days this week. But the symptoms flared up on him again Thursday, Garrett said.
A Pro Bowler last season, Vander Esch's 87 team-credited tackles this season rank second on defense behind linebacker Jaylon Smith's 110. The Cowboys have the league's seventh-ranked defense through 10 games with quarterback Tom Brady's Patriots up next.
Sean Lee, the Cowboys' starting strong-side linebacker, filled in for Vander Esch on the weak side against the Eagles and Giants. He tallied 23 combined tackles, including a season-high 12 in the 37-18 win over New York.
Joe Thomas, a capable reserve, could also have an uptick in snaps. He has not practiced this week due to illness, however.