ARLINGTON, Texas - With the NFC East and home field advantage throughout the playoffs locked up, there were a lot of voices in the days leading up to the Cowboys' Monday night matchup with the Lions clamoring that Ezekiel Elliott's carries should be lower than they've been all season.
Those voices got their wish, but it didn't stop Elliott from making an impact.
Elliott was only given 12 carries in the game, but he totaled 80 yards thanks in large part to the first of his two touchdowns. With three minutes left in the first quarter he took a handoff past the right guard and cut to the sideline for a 55-yard touchdown, untouched by a single defender. The play came in stages. It first became clear he would reach the secondary and moments later it became clear he would reach the end zone.
"When you break the second level, we say it all the time," Elliott said after the game. "You think, 'First down, touchdown.' Last week, I think I had a run on the same play and I was looking at [a defender in the secondary] too much and he caught me on the sideline. So this one, I was like, 'Just pick a point in the end zone and go get it.'"
From Jason Witten's viewpoint on the field, it was the kind of play that can only come from a truly special playmaker.
"He's a Ferrari, he's everything," Witten said. "The ability to be physical enough inside the tackles and then also to get out to the perimeter and take it the distance like that, it just doesn't come along very often."
[embeddedad0]Elliott wouldn't be able to top his now-famous celebration from last week when he jumped in the Salvation Army kettle, but for such a big play on Monday Night Football, he managed a fittingly team-first celebration by mimicking a number of celebrations from his wide receiver teammates including Dez Bryant's signature "X."
"Just to show the unity of this team and to show how close we all are," Elliott explained. "We go out there and we're not only playing for ourselves, we're playing for each other."
Rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns is anything but a disappointing statistical performance, but it will make it very difficult, if not improbable, for Elliott to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record, especially with the Cowboys' luxury of being able to continue to decrease his workload in Week 17. Elliott would need 178 yards in the final game of the season to claim the record.
After the game, Jason Garrett quickly dismissed the notion that the record is even considered by the team, claiming that they "don't think about that kind of stuff." Witten, on the other hand, admitted that someone like Elliott was bound to think about such a big accomplishment, but that he trusted the rookie to focus on the bigger picture.
"This moment that we're in now, being 13-2 is far greater than any individual accomplishment," Witten said. "He'll have a lot of success over his career. He'll have a lot of opportunities to get those records. If the guy's not one of the top MVP candidates I don't know who is. His body of work speaks for itself and he needs to understand that and I think he does."
Garrett added that Elliott left his stamp on the Cowboys' 42-21 win Monday night regardless of any records. "We wanted to play Zeke in this ballgame," Garrett said. "He did a really good job, made a lot of big plays for us. Thought he ran tough. Some of those inside runs, those dirty, runs, made a big impact on the ballgame."
Elliott was more than happy with his output.
"I think I had a great game," Elliott said. "I think we did a good job of taking a step forward as an offense tonight. That's all that matters."
After 15 games of playing with his rookie running back, Witten was happy to sum up why Elliott is helping to lead the Cowboys to win after win.
"He's the ultimate team guy in a lot of ways," Witten said. "He's always congratulating the linemen. I'm just proud of him."