Spagnola: Wonder No More Just How Important Zeke Is To Cowboys' Success

LANDOVER, Md. – Weird game.

         Played in a steady three-hour downpour.

         First play from scrimmage, Ezekiel Elliott fumbles the ball away, his third fumble here at FedExField in four quarters and one play.

         The Cowboys, staring a 16-7 deficit right in the face, see Tyrone Crawford block a Washington field-goal attempt and cornerback Orlando Scandrick scoops up the ball at his 10, then goes the other way 86 yards to set up the Cowboys' go-ahead touchdown, to lead 14-13 at halftime.

         The Cowboys are called for eight penalties, including a flimsy hold near the line of scrimmage that nullified an Elliott 26-yard touchdown run and another hold that nullified a smoke screen to Dez Bryant for 23 yards that had gone to the Washington 4.

         The Cowboys, who couldn't buy a takeaway in Games 3, 4 and 5, now have collected three in each of the past two games, including their first interception since Game 2.

         That interception, compliments of a David Irving tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, turned into the closeout touchdown, Byron Jones scampering 21 yards for the score.

         Dak Prescott, having three consecutive, three-touchdown games passing, didn't even have one in this game and only threw for 143 yards, fewest of the season.

         Tyron Smith, strange enough, was called for holding twice, and had a false start.

         Cole Beasley had to leave the game with a concussion.

         The previously sack-challenged Cowboys racked up four in this game, making it nine in the past two games and 16 in the past four.

         Recently-signed kicker Mike Nugent, having to replace the injured Dan Bailey, in his Cowboys debut is asked to kick five field goals and three extra points in about as bad conditions as the Cowboys have experienced in quite some time, hitting four of those field goals and all the extra points.

         Plus, Redskins quarterback Kurt Cousins threw for 263 yards, with nearly half of those, 123 yards, going to Jameson Crowder

         Talk about some unorthodox football, maybe just a prelude to Tuesday's ghoulish Halloween or something.

         No matter, Cowboys 33, Redskins 19, their second consecutive win and pushing their record to 4-3, remaining just two games behind NFC-leading Philadelphia (7-1), and sending the Redskins (3-4) to their second consecutive loss.

         And as Dak said afterward, "We'll take it, a win is a win."

         No kidding, and an NFC East win to boot, not to mention a win over those Redskins, the fifth straight for the Cowboys at this stadium saddled with continued seat reduction.

         But if there was one stabilizing factor, something that didn't leave you scratching your head and going, say what, it was Zeke – after that game-opening fumble – lending a sense of conventionality to this game.

         In fact, he just possibly was the difference:

         See a career-high 33 carries for 150 yards, 3.5 yards shy of accounting for half of the Cowboys' 307 total yards all by himself. The kid ran his hinny off. Sure, as he was quick to point out, his offensive linemen were executing at a high level for the second straight game. But there were a lot of wet and dirty yards, hard yards littered with his persistence, and none more than during those final two Cowboys' time-draining possessions in the fourth quarter when his carry total increased by 10 and the clock decreased by 8 minutes, 34 seconds with the Cowboys protecting a lead.

         "He was outstanding today, and he had to be," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "You said it – the conditions were challenging throughout. We're at our best when we run the football, and we really needed to run it and run it a lot and run it well in this game, particularly in the second half when the weather got even worse. I thought he did a really good job."

         And has been doing a "really good job." Let's just go backward. That's 150 Sunday and two rushing touchdowns with one called back; 147 last Sunday with two rushing touchdowns and another receiving; 116 the Sunday before that. Add 'em up, that's 413 yards rushing the past three games and five total touchdowns.

         "It just shows how important he is," Dak says.

         You'd better believe it, and don't even come in with any of that weak stuff that anyone can do what he's doing behind the Cowboys offensive line. This kid is special with the ball in his hands. Real special.

         And that is why the Cowboys world should come to a standstill and hold its breath at 4 p.m. Central Monday when the NFLPA and the NFL will battle one more time in that Southern District of New York court when Judge Katherine Polk Failla will decide if Zeke receives the preliminary injunction that likely will allow him to play for the remainder of the season while his lawsuit moves at glacier speed through the court system, or if the request is denied, thus immediately starting his six-game suspension – again.

          And remember, what Judge Katherine is deciding has nothing to do with guilt or innocence in the NFL's charge of domestic violence that the legal system in Columbus, Ohio, declined to prosecute and the NFL's prime investigator declined to recommend punishment after multiple interviews with his accuser. Nope, the argument is over whether Zeke received a fair arbitration and appeal hearing of the NFL's six-game suspension.

         And if you take into account his contributions over these past three games and are objectively analyzing his importance to this team, you certainly would be a fan of Zeke continuing to fight tooth and nail to have his day in court and continue playing this season.

         Look, nothing against Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris, but face it, they aren't Zeke, and don't kid yourselves for one minute. For good measure, Dak emphasized the point, saying it once again, with even more feeling, "Yeah, he's very important to this offense."

         Hugely important.

         The Cowboys need him on the field, and that was never more apparent than on a rainy Sunday afternoon against the Redskins.

         As for Zeke, he seems to compartmentalize all of this, focuses on football when it's time to practice and play football, then focuses on his court proceedings when off the field. And as I've said time and time again, he can just hope the judge will do what's right instead of what's legal. Three judges have now voiced their disagreement with this notion that the NFL is pushing that no matter what, whatever is decided during these arbitration hearings is gospel, that the employee must capitulate when there is a collectively bargained agreement.

         "We're confident in our argument," Elliott said. "We're confident that I'll be on the field for the rest of the year."

And if "irreparable harm" is the issue during this battle over an injunction, all Judge Katherine need do is look at what we saw on a rainy Sunday at FedEx to witness the harm his absence would cause. Not only immediate financially, but also in his ability to contribute to his success on the field and the team's success.

No wonder Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, previously remaining neutral in this court battle, has become so outspoken, not only because of, as the judge in Sherman, Texas, pointed out, the NFL's "inherent unfairness" in this case, but also because of Zeke's readily apparent importance to future Cowboys success this season.

"What is important is he gets a fair shake," Jones said after the game. "Zeke has in no way, by any standard in this country, done anything wrong. He's done nothing wrong. We, the league, have tried to say he's done something we disagree with. We all don't agree with that. I want him to get a fair shot. He deserves that.

"We don't have the system in place for this and we're trying to make one up in a few short months, and it's got too many ways to not be fair to a person like Zeke."

Come to think of it, not a bad closing argument to also send Judge Katherine. Because when it comes right down to it, Zeke's and the Cowboys' 2017 cards are in her hands.

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