IRVING, Texas -It didn't take a football guru to realize how well Bruce Carter played Sunday night against the Falcons.
He was credited with 10 tackles, including nine solo stops, with two behind the line of scrimmage, along with a pass deflection.
It was certainly a breakthrough performance for Carter and if anyone could appreciate that effort, it was Sean Lee, the injured linebacker who is forced to sit and watch from home.
Lee is on injured reserve and out for the season after undergoing surgery last week to repair torn ligaments on his right big toe.
With Lee out of the lineup, and his backup Dan Connor missing last week's game with a neck strain, there was even more pressure on Carter to elevate his game to that next level.
"He has taken that next step. His hard work is paying off," Lee said of Carter. "Obviously he's a talented guy. All that work he put in preparing now is showing on the field. I think it's matter of time before he's one of the best linebackers in football. He has the ability to be that. Now it's just a matter of playing like that every week."
While Lee said it "was fun to sit back and watch him make all those plays," there was one that stood out more than any other.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Falcons were up a touchdown and were looking to pad the lead when speedy receiver Julio Jones took a pass over the middle and sprinted down the sidelines for a 48-yard gain. But he was pushed out of bounds by Carter, who not only stayed with him, but even caught up to Jones.
"That was my favorite play of the night," Lee said. "It wasn't just the ability he has to make a play like that, but the hustle it takes to get down field and run with the receivers like that was pretty amazing."
Carter now has 55 tackles and will likely catch Lee, who still leads the team with 77 stops.
While they won't play together until next season, Lee said he's excited about the future with Carter next to him.
"I think it can be really fun and we have to chance to do some great things," Lee said. "I hate that I'm not out there this year. You can see how good Bruce is right now and I wish I could be out there. But I'll be back and we're excited about what we can do together and what this defense can be."