ARLINGTON, Texas – Rolando McClain last played an NFL game exactly nine months ago in the Divisional playoff round. Back from a four-game league suspension Sunday, he reclaimed his starting job at middle linebacker and played all but a handful of snaps.
It wasn't enough to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots. But McClain's return, coupled with Greg Hardy's debut, boosted the defense in the first half against the NFL's top-ranked offense.
"A long four weeks," McClain said after the Cowboys' 30-6 loss. "The score is what it is. You can't change it, but you can go out here and play football, so that's a good day.
"They're a great team, a great team. They just won a Super Bowl – they are the standard, so we know the standard. We know what we have to improve, so the next thing is just going out and doing it."
McClain missed the Cowboys' offseason practices, training camp and preseason as he recovered from a knee scope. He got back into practice near the end of preseason, just before his suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy took effect Sept. 5, and he wasn't able to resume practice until this past week after sitting the first four games.
"You could clearly see the impact that Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain made on our defense. Tremendous effort," defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "I just wish we would have done enough to get the victory, but we have some good things to look at and re-evaluate."
On the first defensive series, the Cowboys were able to disrupt Brady's timing by sending McClain on a middle blitz for a sack and a nine-yard loss, forcing a punt.
Not surprisingly, McClain said he had tired legs at points in the game, but he still managed to tie safety Barry Church for the team lead in tackles (eight), including two for loss, and a quarterback hurry.
"I actually felt good," McClain said. "I'm looking forward to playing again, but I'm looking forward to this bye week because we've got stuff to improve on."