CLEVELAND – He might have tried to downplay it, but Ezekiel Elliott knew exactly where he was playing this weekend – and it was important to him.
If that didn't show in his words from the past week, it showed when he scored his first touchdown and used his arms to spell out "O-H-I-O" – a cheer made famous by his Ohio State Buckeyes.
"It's only right – I'm back in Ohio," he said after the game.
Elliott became an Ohio State legend just down the road in Columbus, but the entire state is wrapped in Buckeye fever. If that wasn't common knowledge before Sunday's game, it was made evident by the rousing support from the stands at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"Of course Zeke – I've never seen so many 21s in the stands in my life. Zeke was home, and he gave them a show," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones.
It wasn't the gaudiest stat line of the rookie's impressive season, but it sure was efficient. Elliott got the rock 18 times on the afternoon, tallying 92 yards and two touchdowns. More impressive than the yardage was the way he seemed to punish Browns defenders on every run.
His 10-yard score in the second quarter saw him dive through a Cleveland tackler and extend over the goal line. On his eight-yard run in the third quarter, he broke outside and stiff armed his way past Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun en route to the end zone.
"You want to get out there and start fast," Elliott said. "You want to play a physical game and impose our will."
In a way, it was a fitting tribute to Elliott's college days, when Ohio State routinely blew past outmatched opponents. With the Cowboys holding a 35-10 lead in the third quarter, Elliott sat down for the remainder of the game and allowed Alfred Morris to get his most extensive work of the season.
"It's a long season, so I've had an increased workload and they were just taking care of me," Elliott said.
None of that put a damper on the afternoon. With a victory well in hand, thousands of fans stayed behind long after the final whistle to cheer on the young running back. Most of them were longtime Cowboys fans who followed the team long before Elliott was added to the roster.
But as Elliott ran off the field, once again spelling out "O-H-I-O," it was evident he's added a few more to the bandwagon – particularly in this state.
"Ohio means a lot to me," he said. "It was very important for me to come here and have a good game and play in front of these great fans."