FRISCO, Texas –Alfred Morris is as professional as they come, but he learned this week's lesson at the lowest levels of football – and he's got the memory to prove it.
"I can go back to little league," he said. "Granted, it's not the same level as professional, but at the same time I played at a good park. We always had really good talent. And there were teams where we're like 'Oh, this is a pushover. We're going to blow by them.'"
Morris won a league championship back in those Pop Warner days. But in his run to the playoffs, it was one of his team's worst opponents that blindsided them with one of their only setbacks.
"The last game of the season we got beat by a team we should've walked the dog on," Morris said. "We underestimated them and they ended up beating them 6-0. But we turned it around in the playoffs and ended up beating them. We played like we should have."
The analogy shouldn't be hard to grasp. The Cowboys are going into a matchup against one of the league's worst teams – a 2-10 Giants squad, depleted by injuries, that just fired its head coach and its general manager. If ever there's an "easy" NFL matchup on paper, this would be it.
But Morris knows better.
"You take teams lightly, like, 'They're beat up, their record sucks, they don't have any hope' – and those teams have nothing to lose but everything to gain," he said.
The Cowboys are in the opposite situation as they prepare to travel to New Jersey. As bad as the Giants might be, Dallas can't afford to take anything for granted, given that they're likely one loss away from missing the playoffs.
As Morris himself pointed out, the NFC has experienced a wildly successful 2017 season. Given the way the conference standings look right now, a 10-6 record wouldn't guarantee the Cowboys a playoff berth – so a loss certainly wouldn't help.
"If we want to keep our hopes of going to the postseason alive, we have to win out," Morris said.
Morris also acknowledged, albeit briefly, his own situation heading into the final month of the season. Having rushed 64 times for 307 yards during Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, Morris' tenure as the Cowboys' starting running back is drawing toward its close. It stands to reason that when Elliott's six-game suspension ends on Dec. 18, he'll reclaim his role as the top option in the Cowboys' offense.
In the eight games that Elliott played to start out the season, Morris tallied a grand total of 14 snaps – roughly two per game. So it's not a stretch to say these next two weeks are his best opportunity to help the Cowboys the rest of the way, not to mention make an impression as he heads into free agency in 2018.
"It's good that I can get some film out there to kind of show that I've still got this – because I still do," he said. "I know a lot of people say 'He's washed out' and that type of stuff, but I don't listen to them."
"Who knows what happens when Zeke comes back -- I'll be right back in my old role. But I'm going to try my best help my team even in that aspect – so just make the most of these next two games, and really this next game because that's all that matters right now."
There's no telling how much it might mean to both Morris and the Cowboys if the Dallas ground game maintains its roll from a week ago. After battling for good, not great numbers in the first three weeks of Elliott's suspension, Morris broke out against the Redskins for 127 yards on 27 carries.
"We were able to do what we know we could do. It's kind of like momentum, and we're going to use that to try to get it going again," he said.
With the Giants ranking dead-last in the league in run defense, allowing 130 yards per game, a similar effort could go a long way in getting the all-important win.
But if his prior experience has taught him anything, Morris reiterated – it's not a game he or his teammates can take for granted.
"They may be down in the dumps, they may be beat up from an injury standpoint," he said. "But that makes this team that much more dangerous, and you have to go in and play the game you know how to play – like we did this past week."