IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys suffered a major blow to their defense Friday when starting middle linebacker Sean Lee was ruled out for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers with continued neck issues.
Cowboys coaches informed the players of Lee's health status during team meetings Friday. He is considered week to week with, for him, only two regular-season games left.
"I was surprised," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said after Friday's practice. "I saw him in the meeting and asked 'Hey, what's wrong? Are you all right?' He was just a little bit upset. Things happen, and you just got to keep rolling and find a way to win this game."
Lee had an MRI exam Thursday, which revealed a sprained ligament in his neck, a source said. Doctors want to make sure he has more strength and range of motion before he returns to the field. Lee had a bone scan Tuesday that did not reveal structural damage.
He suffered the injury during Monday night's loss to the Chicago Bears, and he said he came out of the game because he couldn't tackle without injuring himself further.
An MRI the next day revealed no structural damage, and team officials planned on Lee participating not only in practice but also in the Packers game.
Lee was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday and wasn't on the field Friday.
"Whenever you're talking about head and neck, you're particularly careful, there's no question about that, particularly about a guy who has as much contact as he does," coach Jason Garrett said of Lee before Friday's practice. "Having said that, you try to evaluate the injury as best you can with the scans that you do with all of that and what the player is saying, his willingness, his demeanor, his mindset and all of that stuff, and you put it all together and try to make the best decision."
Justin Durant will replace Lee in the starting lineup. Durant took over after Lee went down in the first half of a Nov. 10 loss to the New Orleans Saints but suffered a hamstring injury that knocked him out of that game. He has not played since.
"It kind of got my confidence up a little bit," Durant said. "I hadn't had any game action really at the Mike [position] before that, so it helped a lot."
Lee missed two games because of a pulled hamstring before returning for the Bears game.