FRISCO, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott had a noticeable limp and didn't try to hide it.
"I'm beat up," he said moments after the Cowboys' last-second, 26-24 victory over the Detroit Lions at AT&T Stadium.
"I was already sore in the first quarter. I knew what type of game it was going to be. But I had to grind through it."
Elliott's backup, Rod Smith, did a good job of spelling him in the second half. And the star running back delivered big plays early and late – as a runner and a receiver – to help the Cowboys outlast a surging Lions team and improve to 2-2 on the season.
A few "little bruises" didn't stop him.
"Little bit of a sore ankle," he said. "Little bit of a sore knee. Nothing big."
They'll need him next Sunday night at Houston. They needed him Sunday against Detroit.
Elliott's 152 rushing yards were the third-highest total of his career and the most since his Week 15 of his rookie season in 2016 (159 vs. Tampa Bay). He entered Sunday in a tie for the NFL rushing lead through three games.
But it was his skill as a pass-catcher that made the biggest difference against Detroit.
Leading 13-10 in the second quarter, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan dialed up a screen pass to Elliott from quarterback Dak Prescott. With his offensive linemen hustling downfield – center Joe Looney made it all the way to the goal-line first – Elliott avoided tacklers for a 38-yard touchdown that gave Dallas a two-score advantage.
"We call that the Linehan Special," Elliott said with a smile. "I have three touchdown catches off that. It works every time."
In 2016, he took a screen 83 yards to the house at Pittsburgh. In 2017, it was a 72-yard touchdown at San Francisco. The Cowboys won both games.
"Give it to your best player in the open field and stick on a guy (knowing) that he's going to make a play," guard Zack Martin said. "That's been a good play for us. When he gets the ball in his hands, anything can happen."
Sunday, they needed another clutch catch from Elliott to overcome a late one-point deficit.
Down 24-23 with less than 90 seconds remaining, the Cowboys exploited a mismatch that Elliott noticed earlier on their final drive: a linebacker covering him.
On second-and-10 from his own 41, Prescott saw the matchup and found Elliott outside on a fade for a 34-yard gain, setting up Brett Maher's winning field goal from 38 yards out as time expired.
"I'm willing to take that matchup any day of the week," Prescott said.
"Any way you got him the ball, any way he got the ball he was dominating the game and setting the tone."
Elliott finished with four catches for a team-high 88 yards, the second-most of his career. He became the first NFL player this season to top 200 yards from scrimmage (a career-high 240).
Martin expected big things from Elliott when the third-year back broke the pre-game huddle for the first time ever.
"It got me jacked up," Martin said. "I had a feeling he was going to go off. And he did."