EAST RUTHORFORD, N.J. – Halfway through what was shaping up to be another career effort against the Giants, Sean Lee wound up on the sideline once again.
With Lee watching from the bench, the Giants slogged through a six-play possession against the Dallas defense. Meanwhile, the entire NFL world scrambled to find out if the All-Pro linebacker had been beset by another injury.
"Appropriately, too. It's been one thing after the next with me," Lee joked after the game was over.
It quickly became apparent that it wasn't an injury, but instead a quick rest for a guy who has missed the last four weeks of the season. Given that he's been out with a hamstring injury since Nov. 12, Lee said he understood the need to get a breather.
"Just making sure I'm fresh until I get my legs back under me – game legs – and get in game shape," he said.
That was about all the rest he'd need, though, as Lee quickly returned to action and continued racking up tackles against a Giants defense that wasn't equipped to stop him.
"We really came out in the second half and played the right way – a lot of three-and-outs and a lot of big plays," Lee said. "That's the type of defense we are. When we're playing the right way, that's what happens."
As has usually been the case when he's healthy, Lee was at the center of a lot of those big plays.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the game tied, 10-10, the Giants faced a 2nd-and-4 at their own 26-yard line, where they gave the ball to speedy receiver Sterling Shepard on an end around. To say Lee read the play would be an understatement, as he ripped past his blocks and brought Shepard down in the backfield for a nine-yard loss.
The Giants punted two plays later, and the Cowboys scored to take a 17-10 lead just four plays after that.
"It's a combination of understanding that it could come, and then once they snapped the ball, you can see it and can read it," Lee said of the play. "Playing within the defense, knowing that I had a chance to go take it – that was my responsibility on that play."
All in all, Lee finished his day with a whopping 18 tackles and a tackle for loss.
If that wasn't good enough, he added his 13th career interception when he corralled a tipped pass by Chidobe Awuzie and returned it to the New York 21-yard line – setting the Cowboys up for their final touchdown of the day.
"It was great to have him back in there," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "He's so damn productive making plays on the ball in the running game, and in the passing game he just always seems to be around."
It's unlikely anyone needed a reminder of what Lee is capable of, considering his Pro Bowl and All-Pro credentials. But for a defense that had its share of struggles during Lee's absence, it was refreshing to see the Cowboys' defense back to operating at full strength.
"This is what this type of team is made of. We've done this before. We've won tough," Lee said. "We continue to play as the game goes on. You saw that we started to make plays in the fourth that really won the game."