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.
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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.