As performances go, it was hardly spectacular. And because it wasn’t, Ezekiel Elliott showed you once again just how much he means to the Cowboys' offense.
Elliott, who’s had an offseason filled with tumult, rushed for 104 yards on 24 carries Sunday against the New York Giants. He also caught five passes for 36 yards.
Only one of Elliott’s carries gained more than 10 yards, but the Cowboys required grit — not glitz — to secure a victory on Sunday Night Football. And Elliott provided it.
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Dallas 19, New York Giants 3.
“It just feels good to be out here with these boys, it's definitely been a tough last 14 months," said Elliott, speaking publicly for the first time since the NFL announced he had been suspended for six games on Aug. 11.
"At times, it's gotten so hard you start to lose faith. But just being able to come in and be with these boys every day has kept me focused and made me not give up and keep going.”
That begs the question, “What’s been the hardest part about having the most intimate details of his personal life revealed for the world to judge?”
“Just kind of your name getting dragged through the mud," Elliott said. "It's been 14 months like I said. Just sort of being associated with that. That's tough."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Elliott after a year-long investigation determined Elliott committed physical violence against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson three different times. Elliott has denied the accusations and vigorously fought the allegations.
The NFL denied his appeal, which left the court system as the only remaining option if he was going to play this season. On Friday, judge Amos Mazzant III, of the Eastern District of Texas, ripped the NFL's handling of the case and granted Elliott a temporary restraining order and an injunction that should allow him to play the rest of this season while the NFL and the NFLPA wage a legal holy war.
“It’s just a relief that I'll finally get a fair trial,” Elliott said. “I'll finally get a chance to prove my innocence, and I’m just happy that I'm able to be with these guys for as long as it's permitted, not having to miss time and be away.”
That coincides with what running backs coach Gary Brown said about Elliott’s demeanor leading up to Judge’s Mazzant’s decision Friday afternoon.
“He was really focused on his preparation,” Brown said. “He had decided that it was out of his hands and he wasn’t going to do anything but prepare for the season and whatever happened he’d deal with it.”
While there have been plenty of questions about Elliott off the field, none exist about his ability on the field. After all, he led the NFL in yards (1,631) and carries (322) last season.
The drama of the past few months had no effect on his performance against the Giants.
Now, you can talk about how much Giants missed Beckham, who sat out with a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason. And you can talk about how Dak Prescott was solid yet unspectacular. And you can even talk about the defense and the dominating performance DeMarcus Lawrence turned in with five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
None of it matters without Elliott.
It's not the dazzling runs and the SportsCenter highlights, but the dirty two- three- and four-yard runs that made the difference against New York. It’s the reason the Cowboys ran 18 more plays and kept the ball nearly 10 more minutes than New York.
A fake to Elliott set up Prescott’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten that pushed the lead to 13-0.
In the fourth quarter, Elliott ran nine times for 37 yards as the Cowboys kept the ball for 10:03, which meant the Giants had no real chance to rally. The Cowboys took over at their 48 leading 16-3 with 7:48 left.
Elliott carried seven times for 30 yards and two first downs, setting up Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal — a 36-yard kick — with 2:00 left, and ending any hope of a New York rally.
Now, instead of serving a six-game suspension. He’ll be impacting the Cowboys’ offense for the foreseeable future.
“It's Ezekiel Elliott. Feed me. The guy is a monster,” Dez Bryant said. “You hand that guy the ball.”
And watch him dominate.