"Everything. I remember it perfectly."
That's what Jets second-year inside linebacker Darron Lee recalls about a critical fourth-and-4 in his first professional matchup against the Patriots last year. With 2:53 remaining in regulation and the Jets on top 17-16, quarterback Tom Brady lined up in shotgun formation with four receivers out wide and running back James White to his right.
"Tom was staring me square in the face," said Lee, who recorded double-digit tackles in that game for the first time in his career. "I was chillin' in the A-gap. They have a belly play right up the A-gap and in the back of my mind I said they could probably get four and maybe push five if he leans forward. I wasn't going to give him a run because that's a freebie. I saw him look at me, look out and look at me."
The ball was snapped with seven seconds remaining on the play clock, White took off in the flat and Brady hit him in stride for a first down.
"I ran to the outside as fast as I could," Lee said. "The next thing I remember was him getting five yards instead of four."
The Patriots won that game 22-17, but the Ohio State product came away with a learning moment. Reflecting on the play, Lee said he would tell his rookie self to read the running back's splits because White was stacked on the tackle, which meant he was going out for a pass.
The Jets will square off against the Patriots for the first time in 2017 this Sunday and the Ohio State product feels exponentially more prepared in year two, especially when it comes to reading his keys.
"As far as coverages, my timer and just knowing how fast they get the routes off," Lee said of sophomore improvements. "The timer helps because last year, the ball was released and then I'd make my break. Now, I can start getting towards my break because of my timer going off. To cap it all off, I'm going to know when that play is coming."
The 6'1", 232-pounder currently ranks second on the team with 37 tackles, but Lee believes he hasn't scratched the surface of his ability.
"Making more plays," he said of his season goals. "More than I've been making. Now I'm in position where I know I can simply go and execute as opposed to just be in my gap. I'm trying to be in my gap and make a play."