PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Sean Lee played a bigger role than Tony Romo in the Dallas Cowboys’ victory over the Eagles in October.
Lee had 11 tackles, an interception and helped the Cowboys become the first team to shut down Chip Kelly’s high-flying offense in a 17-3 win at Philadelphia on Oct. 20. Both Romo and Lee will miss the NFC East championship game Sunday night at Dallas.
While Romo’s injury dominates headlines, Lee’s absence might have more impact.
“He’s obviously one of the top linebackers in the game and seeing him up close and personal when we played them in October, he was all over the field,” Kelly said. “He’s as good a linebacker as there is in this league.”
The Eagles (9-6) need a win or tie over the Cowboys (8-7) to clinch their first division title since 2010 and secure the No. 3 seed. The loser goes home.
Kyle Orton will make his first start since 2011 for Romo, who had back surgery Friday. Lee will miss his third straight game with a sprained neck.
Without their offensive and defensive leaders, the Cowboys are 7½-point underdogs at home in their third consecutive all-or-nothing regular-season finale. They lost to the Redskins last year and the Giants in 2011. Romo and the Cowboys also lost in Philadelphia in the same situation in 2008.
So, maybe Orton gives the offense a chance. But not having Lee against these Eagles is tougher to overcome.
The Eagles had scored 30 or more points in four of their first six games, and had gained at least 400 yards in all six before their first meeting against Cowboys and a depleted defense missing four-time All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
Yet Lee and Co. shut them down.
LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 55 yards on 18 carries. DeSean Jackson had only three catches for 21 yards. Nick Foles, making his second start for an injured Michael Vick, was awful, completing just 11 of 29 passes for 80 yards before sustaining a concussion at the end of the third quarter. Rookie Matt Barkley replaced him and threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter.
“Sean Lee is an incredible player,” Foles said. “He’s everywhere. He makes a lot of big plays. I know that they’re going to miss him, but teams rally when guys get hurt and I’m going to be ready for their best shot.”
DeVonte Holloman, a rookie sixth-round pick, has filled in for Lee. Since the victory over the Eagles, the Cowboys have struggled terribly on defense. They’ve allowed more than 600 yards in a game twice; an NFL-record 40 first downs in a blowout loss to New Orleans; and eight straight scoring drives in an embarrassing defeat at Chicago.
Overall, the Cowboys are ranked last in yards allowed, giving up an average of 418.6 per game. They’re 25th in points allowed (27.2). It’s no coincidence the defense has played poorly without Lee, who will be out five of the last six regular-season games.
“He’s a terrific player,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “When he’s been in there playing, he obviously has a significant impact on why their defense can play well.”
McCoy, who is on the verge of becoming the first Eagles to lead the league in rushing since Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren in 1949, didn’t give Lee and the Cowboys all the credit for their win two months ago.
“I don’t think we played well. I didn’t play well,” he said. “There were reads I should make nine out of 10 times and I didn’t make them. It was me more than anything.”
NOTES: Eagles S Colt Anderson (knee) and backup OL Julian Vandervelde (back) were ruled out for Sunday’s game. Anderson will be missed on special teams. Vandervelde is the backup center, so starting LG Evan Mathis would fill that role if Jason Kelce went down.
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