ARLINGTON, Texas – Rod Smith kept the football after Thursday's game, a memento for the first touchdown run of his three-year NFL career.
"It's definitely an exciting moment for me and my family," he said. "Lot of the guys on the team came up and were excited and happy for me. They know how hard I work and what I bring to the table."
At the same time, Smith's touchdown was bittersweet. It represented the Cowboys' only points in the 28-6 Thanksgiving Day loss to the L.A. Chargers at AT&T Stadium – a third straight loss in which the offense failed to score double digits.
Smith and Alfred Morris have done their best to keep the running game functional without suspended starter Ezekiel Elliott. Thursday, Smith got a career-high 9 carries for 41 yards as part of a rotation with Morris (9 carries, 36 yards).
"I do think we ran the ball fairly well early on in the game," head coach Jason Garrett said. "We had some success, but unfortunately we weren't able to convert those third downs to keep those drives alive."
Elliott, of course, is the engine for the offense when available. Through the first eight games he ranked second in the league with 783 rushing yards (97.9 per game), and his 7 rushing touchdowns were tied for the league lead.
In three games without Elliott, Morris and Smith have rushed 57 times for 246 yards (4.2 average) with Darren McFadden as a healthy inactive. Add quarterback Dak Prescott's scrambling, and the run game has averaged 99.3 yards per game in this losing stretch.
Indeed, minus plays and penalties have stalled possessions. On the opening drive of the second quarter, Smith helped dig the offense out of its own 4-yard line with 4 runs for 23 yards. But Prescott took a 7-yard loss on a sack, leading to a punt.
Trailing 16-0 in the fourth quarter, the offense finally got moving after a 36-yard pass interference penalty by L.A. Prescott found Dez Bryant for an 18-yard completion inside the 10, and Smith provided an Elliott-like exclamation point: 2 runs into the end zone.
The Chargers scored on their next drive. Down three scores with 9:58 left, the Cowboys didn't call another running play.
The second-half deficits have eroded the offensive efficiency that has become a staple with Elliott on the field.
Smith and Morris will continue to push for that balance in the final three games of Elliott's suspension.
"I'm definitely trying to bring that momentum, that fire to the run game," Smith said.