Patriots

Who is Eric Lee? He just had the game of his life for Patriots

Who is Eric Lee? He just had the game of his life for Patriots

Two weeks ago Eric Lee was living in Western New York and working as a member Bills practice squad. Then a need in New England arose, and a call from the Patriots came. 

He told reporters that the next week was a "hectic" one, but he practiced, he studied, and he came away with his first career sack when the Patriots beat the Dolphins. A week later, he was back in Orchard Park with an opportunity to make the road to the playoffs a little tougher for his former team . . . as a starter.

With defensive end Trey Flowers (ribs) out, Lee stepped in and ended up being one of the most productive Patriots players on the field in a 23-3 win over Buffalo. He finished with an interception, 1.5 sacks, a pass breakup, a quarterback hit and four total tackles.

MORE:

The interception was a game-changer early on. After feigning a rush, he dropped into coverage and directly into Tyrod Taylor's passing lane near the Patriots goal line. The play took points off the board and took some air out of the stadium, ending a drive that lasted more than seven minutes. 

How does that happen? How is one player not talented enough to crack the 53-man roster for the Bills (6-6), but he can start for the Patriots (10-2) and make an immediate impact?

What Lee did Sunday went beyond "next man up." He was at one point the next man's next man.

The Patriots traded for Cassius Marsh just before the season as they tried to fill the void left by Rob Ninkovich's retirement, Derek Rivers' knee injury and Kony Ealy's release. When it was determined that Marsh wasn't working out on the edge, they released him and turned to Lee.

In the second-year, 6-foot-3, 260-pounder out of South Florida, the Patriots saw a good athlete with long arms who had an opportunity to contribute quickly based on his background.

Lee joined the Bills practice squad before the start of the season after being released by the Texans at the end of training camp. In Houston, under Bill O'Brien and Mike Vrabel, he learned schemes and techniques that were similar to the ones taught by Bill Belichick's coaching staff. Lee fit New England's criteria physically and athletically, and so they signed him.  

Though Lee had a hard time holding the edge early in Sunday's game, it was clear after the fact that Belichick was pleased with what his new defensive end has brought to the table in two games with the Patriots.

"He's worked really hard," Belichick said. "Eric, from the first day he got here, came early, stayed late . . . He's smart, picks things up well. I think his time in Houston was beneficial for him. I think a lot of the techniques we teach . . . a lot of the fundamentals, I think there's some carryover on that. I think, in general, the way he played down there, some of that translates to what we do. From a technique standpoint he was able to pick that up."

Lee's quick fit is in some ways a testament to the work done in the Patriots pro scouting department, headed up by Dave Ziegler. The team got a close look at Lee this summer during joint practices with the Texans in West Virginia and that week's preseason game in Houston. They have a long history of acquiring joint-practice opponents, and they kept tabs on Lee in case they ever needed to pounce.

They did, and the shotgun marriage between player and team has worked out about as well as anyone could have possibly anticipated.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Butler: Retweet of Cutler-carving-Patriots-blitz stat 'a big misunderstanding'

Butler: Retweet of Cutler-carving-Patriots-blitz stat 'a big misunderstanding'

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler has an unsolved mystery on his hands. 

After Monday night’s loss to the Dolphins, Butler retweeted a Pro Football Focus graphic that detailed how well Jay Cutler did when the Patriots blitzed him.

The retweet was later un-retweeted...or de-tweeted. And Butler said on Wednesday that he wasn't sure how it ended up there in the first place. 

"I don't know," Butler said. "Totally a misunderstanding."

MORE:

He was asked if he was hacked. He was asked if he mis-hit the retweet link while scrolling through Twitter. He would not confirm any of those suggestions, insisting he had no idea how it happened and that it was an accident.

Though the retweet, which came relatively quickly after the game, served as an indication of Butler's feelings toward the play-calling in Miami, he did not say much to put to bed any notions that he would've liked to see fewer blitzes. 

When asked if he was disappointed in the gameplan, he replied, "Nah. Next question."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Injury report: Brady practices, Branch missing

patriots_brady_072717.jpg

Injury report: Brady practices, Branch missing

Tom Brady who has missed Wednesday practices the past few weeks and skipped back-to-back practices last week with an Achilles injury, was back at practice today as the Patriots geared up for their showdown with the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski was back after missing last week while serving his one-game suspension. Defensive lineman Trey Flowers was back as one of several limited participants after missing the Monday night loss to the Dolphins and newly signed receiver Kenny Britt also practice. Defensive lineman Alan Branch, who injured his knee against the Dolphins, didn't practice.

Here's the full injury report: