ARLINGTON, Texas – These performances always seem to come after the moments of greatest doubt.
Hours before he played one of the best games of his distinguished career, Sean Lee wasn't even a lock to be on the field. The veteran linebacker didn't take a practice rep all week while he worked to recover from two separate injuries.
"The trainers did an unbelievable job getting me ready, having a game plan to make sure I could play in this game," Lee said. "I was lucky to be able to do it."
You wouldn't know Lee was hampered at all, given the way he terrorized the Rams on Sunday.
It wasn't his tally of tackles, either. Lee has become famous for racking up eye-popping tackle totals, but he quipped that his defensive line ate up most of the tackles in the game. Lee finished with just four tackles – though he did notch his first sack since 2015.
Instead, he made his mark with impact plays.
After all, it was Lee who turned this game on its head, when he stepped into the seam and snagged a Jared Goff pass for his first interception since 2017. And if that wasn't enough, the 33-year-old channeled his days as a high school running back with a zigging, zagging, spinning return that set the Dallas offense up to take a 28-7 lead heading into halftime.
"My high school coach was actually at the game, so I wanted to give him a little flashback of what I did in high school," Lee joked.
To say it gave a boost to the Dallas sideline would be a bit of an understatement.
"I don't know if I've been more excited about a play in a football game than I was when Sean Lee intercepted that ball," said Dak Prescott.
It was quite the renaissance for a guy who has taken a back seat to the duo of Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith over the past year. But Vander Esch has been sidelined by a neck injury in recent weeks, and the Dallas defense has been struggling across the board. It's something Lee said is uncharacteristic of a unit he has now been a part of for a literal decade.
"I think we felt like our identity was at risk. We weren't playing like we played – really, for the last five years," he said. "We weren't the type of defense we wanted to be. So we said let's win the hitting, let's win the hustle. Let's keep it simple and play right, and that's a start."
By any objective measure, it looks like the Cowboys did that. The Rams managed just 289 total yards, with just 22 of those coming from the same ground game that pulverized the Cowboys in the playoffs last year. They converted just 4-of-12 third downs, and they scored just seven points before the final five minutes of the game.
"We've done it at times this year. We've played good defense, but we haven't been consistent," Lee said. "We know if we want to win games and get to the playoffs, we have to be the defense that plays like that. It was great to show it, but we have to do it week in and week out."
Next week presents the opportunity to show some consistency. It will be a much more manageable task if Lee can keep turning back the clock.