ARLINGTON, Texas – Here's the irony in Ezekiel Elliott's second-quarter touchdown celebration, when the Cowboys' star rookie running back jumped inside The Salvation Army's red kettle near the AT&T Stadium end zone and briefly disappeared from view:
Elliott has embraced the spotlight throughout his spectacular rookie season.
Sunday night was no different. Elliott's 'donation' to the Red Kettle Campaign, which provides food, shelter and other support for people in need throughout the year, instantly became a social media sensation and embodied the kind of energy Elliott and fellow rookie standout Dak Prescott have provided the Cowboys all season long.
Even though it did penalize his team.
The celebration cost the Cowboys 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff for unsportsmanlike conduct, but Elliott delivered plenty more in the spirit of the holiday season: a career-best 159 yards in a 26-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that moved Dallas (12-2) to the brink of an NFC East title with two regular-season games remaining.
What did Elliott's coach, Jason Garrett, say after his creative kettle jump?
[embeddedad0]"Keep having fun, but just be mindful of those celebrations," Elliott said. "We don't want to put our special teams in a bad situation because that penalty did take back 15 yards. But the kickoff team had my back. They covered really well."
Asked by reporters about the celebration and subsequent 15-yard penalty, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said lightly, "My dream would be for the NFL to really fine me a lot of money and I'll take them to the Supreme Court and we'll get The Salvation Army more attention than anybody can get them. So let's go." Elliott said he would match any fine the league sends him for the penalty and donate the sum to The Salvation Army. The league announced Monday morning that no fine would occur.
The Buccaneers couldn't match the Cowboys' intensity in the running game Sunday night.
Elliott carried the ball on four of the first seven plays from scrimmage, gaining 26 yards. His second-quarter touchdown – five plays after defensive tackle Maliek Collins recovered a fumble by Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston at the Tampa Bay 14-yard line – gave the Cowboys a 10-3 lead and set a single-season franchise record for rookie rushing touchdowns (13).
Elliott also had seven carries on the offense's final two drives, including a 42-yard run off right tackle that set up a field goal for a 26-20 lead.
"You hear Coach say it all the time – those three- and four-yard runs turn into big runs down the stretch. He's built for that," tight end Jason Witten said. "It says a lot about him. He looks like he just continues to get stronger as December comes, and that's a tough defense."
A look at some of our favorite photos from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys game at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, December 18.