Ezekiel Elliott will be sore Monday, maybe as sore as he has been since joining the Dallas Cowboys.
It is as simple as this: The Cowboys do not beat the Detroit Lions 26-24 Sunday at AT&T Stadium without Elliott.
A week after Elliott took the blame for the Cowboys’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks -- stepping out of bounds to negate a touchdown catch and a fumble that effectively ended a late-game comeback -- he carried the Cowboys against the Lions.
“I have never seen him play better than he played today,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
With their season on the line -- yes, really -- Elliott turned in the game’s biggest play because of his ability as a pass-catcher. On second-and-10 from the Dallas 41, Dak Prescott did not look deep to any of his receivers. He went deep to Elliott, who hauled in a 34-yard completion over Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis.
“It was make it or break it this game,” Elliott said. “We needed to go out and get a win, get some momentum, get back to .500 so we can be in a good place the rest of the season. We came in and we weren’t perfect, but we fought til the end and got the dub.”
Ultimately, that play led to Brett Maher’s 38-yard field goal that won the game as time expired.
For the first time this season, Elliott had more than 20 carries, finishing with 25. For the second straight game, Elliott ran for more than 100 yards, with 152. He also got that touchdown catch he lost last week with a 38-yard score on a screen pass in the second quarter and finished with 88 receiving yards on four catches.
He became the first player with more than 200 total yards from scrimmage this season, going for more than 200 yards in a game for the third time his career.
Yes, the numbers mattered, but Elliott was more than the numbers.
Throughout the game, he ran hard and took hits high and low. But he kept coming back.
In the second quarter, before his touchdown catch, Elliott hurt his right ankle and left for a couple of plays. He got his ankle taped in between series and was able to chew up yards. Twice in the second half he came out to rest his ankle, but he returned to pick up a crucial third down on the Cowboys’ first scoring drive of the fourth quarter.
With 2:17 to play, Matthew Stafford put the pressure on the Cowboys with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate, but Prescott, who threw for more than 200 yards in a game for the first time this season, answered.
Or he had the answer -- in Elliott.
“He’s such a complete back,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He plays with such a look in his eye ad such a spirit that’s contagious throughout your football team. You want to give that guy the ball because usually good things happen.”