ARLINGTON, Texas –Ezekiel Elliott looked like Ezekiel Elliott, and for long stretches Sunday, the Cowboys' offense hummed like it normally does with its star running back in the lineup.
But three turnovers and two missed opportunities inside the red zone spoiled Elliott's much-awaited return from a six-game NFL suspension – and ultimately ended the Cowboys' slim playoff hopes in a 21-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at AT&T Stadium.
"We came out pretty well in the first half," Elliott said. "We just didn't put the ball in the end zone and we suffered from that later in the game. It's hard to get a win in this league when you have three turnovers and they have none. We've just got to execute better."
Elliott (24 carries, 97 yards) looked fresh after six weeks off, and he resumed his patented hard-nosed running style in the first quarter with 11 carries for 51 yards.
"The O-Line was doing a fantastic job," he said. "They were dominating the line of scrimmage and all I had to do was go out there and be myself."
But the offense settled for a field goal at the start of the second quarter after two pass attempts by quarterback Dak Prescott inside Seattle's 20-yard line.
The offense missed another red zone opportunity midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-12, the unit had first-and-goal at Seattle's 3 but came away with no points. On first down, Prescott scrambled for one yard to the 2. On second down, tight end Jason Witten was flagged for a holding penalty. Then Prescott was sacked for an 11-yard loss, and ultimately Dan Bailey missed a 34-yard field goal try.
The question afterward for head coach Jason Garrett: Could they have used Elliott more near the goal line? Specifically, could they have simply handed the ball to Elliott on first and second down?
"The first-down play was one of those run-pass options that we had," Garrett said. "They had loaded up the box. The second-down play was a play we liked. Obviously Zeke's a great player and played very well today, been very good for us, but those kinds of plays have been very good for us as well all year long."
Elliott didn't question the play-calling.
"My job is to play football," he said. "My job is not to coach. It's not to call plays. I go out there and do what the coach tells me. (Offensive coordinator) Coach (Scott) Linehan's been doing this for a long time and he knows what he's doing, so I know I trust his judgment."
Prescott (21-of-34, 182 yards) lamented his two interceptions in the third quarter, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Wide receiver Dez Bryant also lost a fumble in the second quarter.
The three turnovers led to Seattle's entire 21-point total, and the Cowboys couldn't match them when given the chance.
"We turn those field goal drives into touchdowns and it's a completely different game," Prescott said.