DETROIT – All Tony Pollard was waiting for was the opportunity.
In Week 11, the Cowboys gave it to him.
It might take a smaller billing to the major headlines of the day, which is understandable when Dak Prescott threw for 444 and Michael Gallup had the best day of his career.
But for a guy whose skillset was compared to Alvin Kamara, it feels significant that the rookie running back showed his stuff against the Lions, touching the ball eight total times for 98 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a great feeling when the hard work you’ve been putting in behind closed doors actually shows off for the public,” Pollard said. “But I just try to do a good job of staying level-headed and being ready for my opportunities.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Pollard flash, as he rushed for 100 yards against Miami back in September. But this felt different.
This wasn’t a young player racking up rushing yards in the second half of a blowout. This was offensive coordinator Kellen Moore scheming up touches for the speedy back, as Pollard carried the ball up the middle and around the end. Often credited for his receiving ability, Pollard scored the Cowboys’ first touchdown of the day when he ran a drag route across the formation and weaved his way to the end zone from 21 yards out.
“I had an idea, just from how we had been practicing and the things we were working on and going over,” Pollard said. “But when it comes to game time, there’s no telling if it actually gets called.”
That’s the classic Catch-22, or perhaps Catch-21 in this case. The Cowboys happen to employ an All-Pro running back in Ezekiel Elliott, and finding touches for backups has proven to be a challenge at times.
“We’ve been trying to get him opportunities over the course of the year, but it’s the same story,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We love our starting running back, 21, he’s a big-time player, one of the best in the league. He’s going to carry the bulk of things.”
If anything, Pollard proved on Sunday that he doesn’t need a huge workload to make a difference. He was officially credited with just two carries and four receptions, and half of his yardage total came on an impressive kickoff return – when he fielded a squib kick that had flown over his head and bounced short of the end zone.
“We knew, in that situation, they would either sky the ball up or try to onside it. So we tried to play both – move the guys up and have me also move up,” Pollard said. “They did kick it deep, so they told me to let it go back, but it was a good bounce. When I seen that it wasn’t going to the end zone, I just tried to make a play.”
And before there’s any hand-wringing about touches, make sure to speak with Elliott. Fresh off a 17-yard score of his own, the Cowboys’ starter subbed himself out for Pollard for a crucial two-point conversion play.
“I knew it was a run play, but I was gassed and I didn’t think I had enough to go out there and run the play,” Elliott said. “It’s just trusting him to go out there and get the job done in a key moment in the game.”
Elliott added: “No moment is too big for that kid. He’s a hell of a player and he’ll keep getting better.”
This should all feel familiar to Pollard. Even in college, he was never the featured back, as he shared the backfield with workhorse Darrel Henderson. When he got the chance, though, he was dynamic.
“At Memphis, I wasn’t just the No. 1 guy, but I was always the playmaker when I was able to get it,” he said. “So, just being ready when the opportunity comes – when they call my number.”
It might have been a bit of his wait, but Pollard’s number got called on Sunday. Judging from the results, perhaps he’ll hear it a bit more often going forward.