ARLINGTON, TX — Before anything got underway between the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots in Week 4, there was the elephant in the room that required addressing. Ezekiel Elliott, a record-setting running back who had ever suited up for another NFL team other than Dallas prior to this season, was returning home.
It was set to be an emotional day for Elliott and the Cowboys alike, both sides throwing justifiable love and praise across the table in the days preceding the matchup on Sunday, and Elliott was honored with a video montage at AT&T Stadium just before kickoff.
Elliott was able to keep his feelings in check, though, knowing he also had a job to do.
"I'm gonna keep it real, I wasn't paying too much attention to that," he said. "I am forever grateful for the Dallas community, forever grateful for the Jones family — just the opportunity he gave me. And just how well the city treated me, how they took me in."
It's a sentiment mirrored by head coach Mike McCarthy, considering the Cowboys had business to attend to as well after their 28-16 loss in the desert, but two things can be true at the same time; and the other is that the locker room and coaching staff understand what Elliott meant to the organization in his remarkable seven-year career.
"I thought it was awesome," said McCarthy. "Frankly that's the way it should be. Why can we not respect people before us? What he meant to the organization — I thought the tribute was outstanding. It was great to see him afterwards."
When it was all said-and-done, the Cowboys' defense had won the matchup, holding the Patriots to only 53 rushing yards on the afternoon and forcing Mac Jones into two interceptions (one being a pick-six) and out of the game as head coach Bill Belichick pulled him with a 38-3 score early in the fourth quarter.
It's now a 3-1 start to the 2023 season for McCarthy's group, but that wasn't the only thing they did right on Sunday. The first was to honor Elliott, considering what he left on the field for the Cowboys for nearly a decade.
"Everyone understands when the ball is kicked off, it's a football game," said McCarthy. "I'm sure it was no different for him. It's about respect, because at the end of the day that's all we all really want. This is a hard business, it's difficult to be successful.
"I was very proud of the organization because he deserves to be recognized. I thought that part of it was a home run."