FRISCO, Texas – It's hard to believe at this point, but Ezekiel Elliott faced plenty of criticism to start his pro career.
You remember, right? After sitting out with a sore hamstring for most of training camp, the rookie phenom struggled a bit to open the season. He floundered to just 51 rushing yards to open the season against the Giants, and he fumbled twice in his first road trip just a week later.
In light of that, it's understandable that he chuckled Wednesday when a reporter asked if this has all been easier than he expected.
"It has not been easy at all," he said. "I don't know if you remember what the talk was four weeks ago, but it hasn't been easy at all – so no."
It's unlikely that Elliott has forgotten the talk from then, even if everyone else has. And why wouldn't they?
Since being pulled for Alfred Morris at the tail end of that Week 2 game against Washington, Elliott has run the NFL – literally. He's racked up 569 yards over the course of four weeks for a healthy average of 143 yards per game. He leads the league with 703 rushing yards, despite the fact that he didn't play on Sunday.
Through it all, he's shied away from talk of awards and records. He even shied away from a question about quieting his critics, opting to keep an even keel. That's easier said than done when the spotlight is this bright, but Elliott is managing so far.
[embeddedad0]"Just not really trying to get too sucked up into it," he said. "There's a long season ahead of us. A lot can happen between here and Week 16, Week 17. We've just got to stay focused, stay level-headed"
Elliott has often deferred credit to his teammates, and on Wednesday he credited them with helping him keep a clear mind. He said it's been the atmosphere of support and encouragement that helped him keep his head up during the rare times when he has struggled – and will help him if he struggles again.
"Like I said from the beginning – after Week 1, after Week 2, no one lost their faith in me," he said. "Having that kind of camaraderie, kind of having that faith and that trust within these walls when you didn't necessarily feel it from outside them – it just helped.
"It just helped going to work every day knowing that you're going to work with guys that believe in you, you're going to work for guys that believe in you. You want to perform for them."
It's safe to say Elliott is performing. Over the last month the only thing that's slowing him down is the bye week. Some might worry that time off might hinder his – not to mention the Cowboys' – momentum. Asked about that, Elliott insisted the opposite.
"If anything, after a bye you come back hungry. You come back hungry to get back on the field," he said. "It kind of sucks having to sit there and watch football on Sunday. You kind of enjoy that bye week but then on Sunday you realize, 'Damn, I'm not out there playing.' We're definitely going to come back hungry and excited to be back on the field."