FRISCO, Texas –For half his sophomore season, a national microscope shadowed Ezekiel Elliott's legal fight against the NFL over a six-game suspension that he ultimately served.
Yet, with 120 yards this Sunday against Philadelphia, Elliott can become the fifth running back in Cowboys history to gain 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.
Head coach Jason Garrett said Elliott will play Sunday despite the Cowboys' elimination from playoff contention. It will mark his second game back from suspension and only his 10th game in the lineup this season.
"Speaks to his ability and this offensive line and how powerful of a runner he is and how dynamic he is," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "He's an incredible player."
When his suspension took effect in early November, Elliott ranked second in rushing (783 yards) and was on pace for a 1,566-yard season, which would have surpassed current NFL leader Todd Gurley's 1,305 yards through 15 games.
Elliott's 2,511 rushing yards since 2016 are the highest total by Cowboys player to start a career, slightly ahead of Emmitt Smith's 2,500 yards from 1990-91.
Is 1,000 yards a goal for this suspension-shortened season?
"It is," Elliott said, "but the main goal is to go win a football game. If it happens, it happens. It's not like I'm going to go out there and force that. But it definitely would be nice.
"Every game has meaning in this league. We didn't make the playoffs. That's obviously our goal. But we still have a chance to make this a winning season and carry over some momentum to next season."
With a victory Sunday, the Cowboys (8-7) would post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2009.
Elliott said he felt good 72 hours after his first game action in 48 days: 24 carries for 97 yards in the Cowboys' loss to Seattle.
Garrett said Elliott ran "very well" in the game, and the team will continue to monitor how he's handling the work after a long layoff.
"We always want to keep our eye on our guys and see what they're capable of doing," Garrett said. "That certainly was one of the things we thought a lot about last week. We really watched him, he practiced well during the week, he really handled each day's work very well and seemed really good all throughout the ball game. Didn't seem like conditioning was an issue. Seemed like he got himself acclimated really easily back into the game."