ARLINGTON, Texas – Entering Thanksgiving, no NFL player had more carries this season than Ezekiel Elliott's 223.
On the opening drive against the Washington Redskins, he didn't look like a tired rookie running back facing two games in four days. And by the end of the fourth quarter, with a second touchdown to tie Emmitt Smith for the third-most in a season by a Cowboys rookie, the first Thanksgiving stretch of his career still didn't look too taxing.
"I was pretty sore even today, this morning," Elliott said. "But by game time, I feel great, I feel fresh.
The league's leading rusher (1,199 yards) once again set the tone for the offense, gaining 47 yards on four runs and a catch on the first possession, including a 4-yard touchdown run.
He helped put the game away, too, with a 1-yard touchdown run in the final seven minutes that gave the Cowboys a 12-point lead in an eventual 31-26 win and season sweep over their NFC East rivals.
Elliott's 20 carries gave him 243 for the season, passing Smith for the most rushing attempts by a Cowboys rookie in team history. Not all of them were as productive as that first drive, when he averaged 10. 8 yards on four carries.
In fact, he gained a grand total of 11 yards on his next nine attempts against an improving Redskins run defense that forced two fumbles against him in Week 2.
[embeddedad0]But he and the offensive line continued chipping away, as they've done all season. On his first carry of the fourth quarter, he captured the right edge and cut up the sideline for a 21-yard gain, his longest of the game. The run sparked a 75-yard touchdown drive that extended the Cowboys' lead to 24-12 – a quick and definitive answer to the Redskins' first touchdown of the game just minutes earlier.
"The combination of just making some critical plays in the passing game when we needed to and our ability to run the football at the end of the game, it just wears them down," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "It allowed us to succeed on those drives and really seal the deal in the ballgame."
Elliott finished with 97 rushing yards and 23 receiving yards, including a 19-yard on that critical fourth-quarter drive to push the lead back to double digits.
"I take pride in just being an all-around great back," he said. "I take pride in going out there and getting a plus every play. We grade our plays plus/minus. Just getting a plus every play, doing my job.
"Growing up I watched Marshall Faulk and he was the best all-around back. I wanted to be a guy that could do a little bit of everything."
The Cowboys' fourth overall draft pick in April continues to be a big factor in 10 straight wins as December approaches.