PHILADELPHIA – For the first time in four seasons, the Cowboys lost to the Philadelphia Eagles with Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup.
Elliott previously was 5-0 in his career against Dallas' fierce division rival, averaging roughly 115 rushing yards per game and 5 yards per carry.
Sunday, Philadelphia prioritized containing the Pro Bowl rusher.
Elliott had only 13 carries for 47 yards in the 17-9 loss, just a week after he and rookie running back Tony Pollard combined for 248 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 23-point victory over the L.A. Rams. He also tied a season high with 7 catches for 37 yards.
The Eagles jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter -- the Cowboys' slow start a familiar trend in most of their losses this season. Elliott had only 5 carries for 9 yards in the first half. Their final drive before halftime – ending with a 32-yard field goal by Kai Forbath to make the score 10-6 – was hurry-up mode.
Ultimately, the offense couldn't find enough balance to counteract the Eagles' approach toward Elliott.
"I just think in general, we weren't as efficient as we needed to be in the passing game," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "Obviously, [Philadelphia] loaded up against the run. They did a good job. They came in with the idea that we weren't going to be able to run the football. We tried to be persistent with the running game, and it wasn't effective enough throughout. There were a couple of good runs here and there, but not consistent enough throughout the ball game.
"We had to attack in the passing game based on what they were doing. At times, we made big plays in the passing game, but other times we weren't able to convert like we needed to."
The run/screen game found some traction on the opening drive of the third quarter, when Elliott gained 39 yards on six of the first eight plays. But on third-and-1 from the Eagles' 25-yard line, Pollard – who substituted for Elliott in the backfield – got stopped for loss on a pitch and fumbled the ball away.
"In that situation, [Elliott] had gotten the ball a number of times, and he just needed a little bit of a rest there so he came out," Garrett said. "In that particular situation, the way we implemented that play, we felt good about what we got. Unfortunately, we weren't able to convert on it."
A major opportunity lost. The Cowboys didn't get inside the 30 again until the final two minutes of the game, when quarterback Dak Prescott (25-of-44, 265 yards) threw a jump ball to wide receiver Michael Gallup on fourth down that fell incomplete.
"They did a nice job of really kind of stopping the run (early), and then end of the first half and start of the second half we kind of found our rhythm and started to get something going," guard Zack Martin said. "And then obviously had that turnover. And then fourth quarter we're kind of down and got to throw. We've got to do a better job getting off to a fast start and establishing early. When you get down like that in a big game, it's tough."
At their best, the offense has been a pick-your-poison unit this season, with Elliott's runs feeding the downfield passing game.
That wasn't the case Sunday. And at 7-8, the Cowboys now need a win in Week 17 – plus an Eagles loss to the New York Giants – to clinch the division and a playoff berth.
No longer do they control their own destiny.
"It hurts," Elliott said. "They made more plays than us."