Nothing about this NFL season was ever going to be normal. It was only four months ago that Ezekiel Elliott tested positive for COVID-19. The Cowboys hoped to succeed in the face of an unprecedented season amid a challenging time in the world.
Ultimately, very little has gone according to plan, and Elliott will be the first one to tell you.
"I think it's kind of 2020 summed up," Elliott said of the current situation the Cowboys are in. "No one here was expecting to be in this position. You can't really control what has happened up to this point. We had a lot of injuries. We haven't played the best in some games."
Elliott has in some ways been the last man standing in a season in which his offensive line has been decimated by health problems and his first and second string quarterbacks have left games with injuries that were, frankly, difficult to watch. He has played through near comebacks and demoralizing blowouts in the first seven games, and his play has been more inconsistent than it ever has.
Elliott had previously never made it through seven weeks of an NFL season without a 100-yard rushing game. But he hasn't cracked that mark once this year. He has also fumbled it five times in those seven games. On Wednesday, he had no specific explanation for his poor play besides the fact that everything has simply gone wrong.
"It's a combination of everything," he said. "Getting down early and we're banged up and there were some weeks when I gave the ball away early, adding to that deficit. It's a combination of things, but getting back to the run is something we're definitely going to focus on this week."
It's more than fair to blame some misfortune on the disasters that 2020 have wrought on people in different ways all over the world. But that isn't necessarily a defeatist attitude. Improving situations always require commitment, perseverance, and communication. Outside of football, Elliott said that he plans on voting early in the presidential election at some point this week with his girlfriend, adding that he wants to ensure that he's able to do it quickly and with social distance protocols to make sure that he doesn't endanger himself, his teammates, or anyone at a polling station.
As far as football goes, Elliott won't let what's been a trainwreck of a season so far change what still remains possible going forward.
"What we do know is that if we win this week, aren't we first in the division?" he said. "We're still right where we need to be. We're still at a place where we can make a run for the playoffs. I think it's on us taking on that adversity."
The inconsistency of the NFC East gives Dallas a chance to compete, and with Dak Prescott out for the season, Elliott is the leader the Cowboys have left to follow.
"We have to figure something out fast," he said. "We've got to win this weekend. We can't have any excuses. It doesn't matter how many guys we have down."
Assuming that Andy Dalton does not clear concussion protocol, it will likely be rookie seventh round pick Ben DiNucci who starts at quarterback for the Cowboys. Elliott jokingly claimed that he wouldn't even know where to find film of DiNucci playing at James Madison but said that people may not realize how adept the rookie is at using his legs as a weapon.
"Just from being around him the past two or three months I can see his arm talent and his ability to move around and make throws," Elliott added.
With a divisional lead essentially a win away, it wouldn't take much to spark the Cowboys from disaster to momentum. Few people would expect DiNucci and Elliott to spark that momentum together.
But then again, 2020 has yet to follow expectations.