ARLINGTON, Texas – It's strange to think that plowing straight into the teeth of one of the NFL's toughest defenses would be a welcome relief.
But that had to be exactly the case for Ezekiel Elliott on Sunday night, as his 104-yard performance against New York took precedence – however briefly – over the off-field headlines that have dominated the NFL since training camp began.
"It's definitely been a tough 14 months, and at times it has gotten so hard and you start to lose faith," Elliott said. "But just being able to come in and be with these boys every day has kept me focused and made me not give up and keep going."
It's been a long and strange journey for the Cowboys' Pro Bowl running back. Fourteen months have passed since he was accused of domestic violence and since the NFL opened an investigation into those allegations.
It's also been exactly a month since the league suspended him for six games over the issue, and only five days since NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson denied his appeal of that discipline.
Elliott learned at the same time he'd be available to play this game, but it has only been 48 hours since a federal judge granted him an injunction, which opens the door for him to play for the foreseeable future while the matter goes to court.
"Just relief, just relief – the fact that I finally get a fair trial, the fact that I finally get a chance to prove my innocence," Elliott said. "I'm just happy that I'm able to be with these guys for as long as it's permitted and just not having to miss time and not being away from them."
Elliott showed in the Cowboys' 19-3 win exactly why his absence would be an issue for his team. He didn't score any touchdowns, and his longest carry went for just 10 yards, but NFL's reigning rushing champion ground the Giants down to the tune of 4.3 yards per carry.
Throw in his 36 receiving yards on five catches, and Elliott's impact on the game did not go unnoticed.
"When he was in there, he really looked impressive. When anybody else was in there, it didn't look impressive," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "That's not taking anything away, but it's just obvious that he has such speed and power."
It looked exactly like what Elliott showcased last year, when he ripped off 1,631 rushing yards en route to an All-Pro selection. And for all the attention that the legal battle has generated, the 22-year-old hardly seemed fazed by it – something he attributed to staying the course.
"You've just got to block it out. You've got to just focus on being the guy I need to be for this team – being a high-energy guy," Elliott said. "I think I do bring a lot of energy to this team, I think I am good for this locker room. Just continue to remain myself."
That's not to say the situation hasn't been trying. Elliott was reluctant to discuss the situation, but he did allow that it has taken its toll.
"Your name being dragged through the mud for 14 months and just kind of being associated with that. That's tough," he said.
It's probably not going to get any easier. The injunction granted on Friday will allow Elliott to play for the foreseeable future, but his battle against the NFL is far from over. If past disciplinary battles are any indicator, it will likely be long and messy.
In the meantime, he can at least find a reprieve in football – one, hard-fought yard at a time.
"I mean, it is what it is. I've kind of just stopped worrying about it, because it's really not in my hands at this point," he said. "I'm just really focused right now on being the running back I need to be so this team can be successful, so we can accomplish what we want to."