ATLANTA – Ezekiel Elliott wasn't with his Cowboys teammates during last November's debacle against the Falcons.
What a difference 371 days make.
Faced with essentially another must-win game Sunday, the Cowboys leaned on their star running back to beat Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, 22-19, and climb within one game of the NFC East lead at 5-5.
It's the Cowboys' first two-game winning streak this season, and it's no coincidence that Elliott has delivered two straight dominant performances. A week after his 187 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown at Philadelphia, Elliott posted 201 total yards against Atlanta: 79 receiving and 122 rushing, including a 23-yard touchdown run that gave Dallas a 10-point lead with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"He's a crucial part of this offense," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "He's one of the best in the league when he has the ball in his hands."
The game bore little resemblance to last year's road trip to Atlanta, a disastrous 27-7 loss in which Prescott was sacked a career-high eight times. Elliott was starting a six-game NFL suspension that week. The Cowboys struggled without him, losing three straight and eventually their chance at the postseason.
New year, different story. The Cowboys now sit just one game behind first-place Washington (6-4) in the NFC East leading into their Thanksgiving Day matchup at AT&T Stadium.
"It means a lot," Elliott said. "I think this was the first game I missed last year (in Atlanta). It was so hard watching them go out there and lose that ballgame, just the way the game went. It just feels great to be in here for these guys and be a big part of this win."
Elliott's 23-yard score was the Cowboys' second and final touchdown of the game. After Atlanta tied the score at 19 apiece in the final two minutes, he got the offense across midfield with an 11-yard catch.
Brett Maher kicked the deciding 42-yard field goal six plays later.
Sunday marked Elliott's fourth career game with at least 200 scrimmage yards, tying Emmitt Smith and DeMarco Murray for the most by a Cowboys player. Since 2016, Elliott's rookie year, he has more 200-yard scrimmage games than any player in the league.
He was quick to credit the guys up front.
"The O-Line, they're going," he said. "They're being very dominant up front, and whenever those guys do that and open up those holes, it's really easy for me. Those guys are the engine of this team. When they're going like that, we're going to be hard to beat."
Stifled in four straight road losses earlier this season, the offense has begun to find its rhythm away from AT&T Stadium. Offensive line coach Marc Colombo has brought energy to the group since being promoted during the bye week. Xavier Su'a-Filo has played well in two straight starts at left guard while rookie Connor Williams works back from a knee scope.
And wide receiver Amari Cooper's presence has helped unclog the running game in three games since arriving in a bye-week trade with Oakland.
"It's giving us favorable boxes," Prescott said. "The offensive line is doing a great job of taking advantage of that, and Zeke is finding the holes and making people miss."
One player to monitor on this short upcoming week is starting left tackle Tyron Smith, who suffered an apparent stinger on the game's final drive. He told reporters afterward he would be OK.
The Cowboys play Washington on Thursday. Control of the division is at stake.
"I think we're finally hitting a rhythm," Elliott said. "I think we're finally hitting a stride, offense and defense. We can't lose this grip. We can't lose the way we're going out there and working every day."