A lot can happen in five days. Eric Lee knows that well. Or, at least he does now.
On Tuesday morning, Lee was a member of the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad. By Sunday afternoon, the 23-year-old defensive end was on the field for the New England Patriots, playing the first regular-season snaps of his NFL career.
“Obviously I expected anything coming in,” Lee told reporters in the locker room afterwards, via Patriots.com. “[Defensive line] coach [Brendan] Daly told me, ‘You can be next to me or you can be out there,’ so I had to be prepared.”
Lee, who went undrafted in 2016 and spent his rookie season on the Houston Texans’ practice squad under the watch of Bill O’Brien, Mike Vrabel, Romeo Crennel and Larry Izzo, was waived during final cuts in September. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound South Florida grad joined Buffalo’s scout team three days later after going unclaimed. And, outside of a four-day promotion, that was where he remained until this past week.
Buffalo made Lee a healthy inactive for his lone game on the 53-man roster. But he’s got his first game in the books now. He’s even got his first sack out of the way, too, after logging 3.5 in his preseason career.
And it all happened over the course 120 hours, give or take, as Lee went from one quarter of the AFC East to another.
“It was pretty hectic, the past week for me,” Lee said. “But I was able to gel with the defense and execute when it counts. I didn't have much time to reflect this week. There were a lot of meetings, a lot of extra meetings. It's been pretty hectic. But yesterday was my first time to take a deep breath. We didn't have practice, so it was more of a mental day to help focus on today.”
The mental day gave way to Lee making his debut on third down in the second quarter versus the Miami Dolphins. No. 55, replacing another No. 55, went on to finish New England’s 35-17 win with four tackles in 25 plays. Capping it off was a takedown of quarterback Matt Moore for a nine-yard loss at the 2:24 mark in the fourth, as Lee stood up at right end and twisted into the A-gap in corroboration with defensive tackle Adam Butler.
"It was riveting,” added Lee. “What goes through your body when you get a sack is overwhelming. You just want to express yourself. I'll try to build on top of this obviously, but it was great.”
Lee was one of three Patriots to record the first sacks of their respective careers Sunday, alongside linebacker Elandon Roberts and cornerback Jonathan Jones. His was one of seven altogether.
The game was over and the Dolphins were chucking it by then. But it counted.
“It's always cool to see guys come in late in the season and see the work they put in, and the coaching staff, to get a guy who just comes in ready to go by Sunday,” said defensive captain Devin McCourty. “... He's been working his butt off since he got here and I'm sure the more he learns, he'll be out there and be able to make some plays.”
Arriving in Foxborough as the corresponding move to the Patriots waiving former trade acquisition Cassius Marsh, Lee was someone the organization had kept an eye on from afar. The Bulls product drew reported interest from the Patriots during the pre-draft process after recording 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception as a senior. He also partook in joint practices with the Patriots at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., this August.
Bill Belichick, though, hadn’t met formally met Lee until this past week.
“We worked against him at Houston in preseason,” New England’s head coach said of Lee in his press conference Wednesday. “He kind of played outside linebacker for Houston, defensive end in their sub package, so there's some relevance there for us, similar to the position that was vacated. We'll see how it goes.”
So far, so good for Lee. Who knows what the next five days will bring for him. But the last five brought plenty.
Even a couple firsts.