Before Sunday's Week 15 game, the last time that Tony Pollard had faced off against the Rams defense, he played well enough for Jerry Jones to make a headline-grabbing joke.
"Zeke who?" Jones said after the August preseason game in which Pollard had 42 yards on just five carries while starting running back Ezekiel Elliott was still in contract negotiations with the Cowboys.
That faux-controversy feels like a lifetime ago, and in Sunday's 44-21 victory over the Rams, Cowboys fans got a full version of what Pollard is capable of, not instead of Elliott, but alongside him. The backfield duo combined for 248 yards and three touchdowns.
For Pollard, it's been a season of relatively limited opportunity and rookie patience. Sunday was only the third game in which he received double-digit carries. He made the most of them by running for 131 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown against the Rams. He's now averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the season.
But in today's NFL, offenses can get away from the running game once a team finds itself in any sort of deficit. At numerous points this year, the Cowboys' game plan has been adjusted mid-game in a way that neutralized Elliott's impact. In such scenarios, the backup rookie running back would be lucky to touch the ball. Even after what seemed like a breakout Week 3 performance against the Dolphins in which Pollard rushed for 103 yards, he wouldn't see more than four carries for almost a month.
Wanting to make an impact and having the opportunity to do so have been two different things for the fourth-round pick out of Memphis.
"I try to focus on what I can control," Pollard said after Sunday's game. "Just control what you can control and when you get an opportunity make the most of it."
Pollard has called Elliott a "big brother" to him, and the two have fun supporting each other mid-game, knowing that behind a proven offensive line one of them could break for a big play at any moment.
"It keeps the sideline exciting," he said.
That big-play potential is what makes Pollard such a useful weapon for the Cowboys, whether it's on limited snaps or with consistent carries. Along with the 44-yard touchdown, Pollard also had a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter off of what seemed to be a broken play.
"Those things happen in football," Pollard said, recalling the play. "Not every play is going to be perfectly drawn up or perfectly blocked the way it's supposed to be blocked. You just have to go out there and be a football player and play."
It certainly impressed quarterback Dak Prescott.
"He's something else," Prescott said of Pollard after the game. "Arm tackles and all that stuff, he's just getting through it. He just continues to make plays anytime the ball is in his hands."
A strong running game has been an identity for the most effective version of the Dallas Cowboys since Elliott was drafted to play with this offensive line. Adding double-digit carries for Pollard and his career high in rushing yards was a part of the team's most impressive win of the season.
Playing behind one of the league's best running backs may make for hard earned and sporadic opportunities, but if there's a silver lining, it's that it allowed Pollard to see the frustration building in the Rams defense, and he was happy to jump in and add to their woes.
"I was just watching Zeke run," Pollard said. "I could see how he was running so I had a feeling we were going to have a pretty good day on the ground."
It's rare for an NFL team to find a new facet to their offense this late in the season. But giving Pollard the opportunities that he's earned alongside Elliott seems only logical at this point. And with a crucial division game against the Philadelphia Eagles coming up and a possible playoff berth on the horizon, Pollard's patience might pay off at the perfect time.