FRISCO, Texas – If Ezekiel Elliott is being honest, then his performance Sunday might be even more impressive.
In the wake of his best game of the season, the Cowboys' veteran running back was asked if he listens to any of the criticism that's been levied at him during this turbulent season.
"I wouldn't say so, man," Elliott said. "I don't really pay attention to what other people are saying. All I worry about is just being the player I need to be for this team."
Again, if that's the truth, it's pretty remarkable. Few have caught more flak for the Cowboys' struggles this season than Elliott, who has been one of the few constants on an injury-ravaged offense.
Heading into this game against the Vikings, Elliott had yet to produce a 100-yard game, and he was struggling to average four yards per carry. If that wasn't enough, his ball security issues had been primary culprits in several of the Cowboys' seven losses.
To say these problems have been discussed would be an understatement.
And yet, with a week off to rest his injured hamstring, Elliott didn't look like that guy on Sunday. It might not have been the flashiest performance of his career, but this iteration of Elliott looked much more like the dump truck that has paced the Cowboys' offense over the last five years.
"Frankly, I just look at the way he runs the football. The attempts, they are body blows for any defense," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy.
That's a wonderful description of Elliott's 21-carry, 103-yard performance. His long of the day was just 18 yards, and he didn't score any touchdowns. But seemingly every time he touched the football, he was grinding out solid yardage and punishing tacklers while he did it.
"I think the boxes were too light," Elliott said. "They were playing a lot of two-high, and we just went out there and made them hurt for it."
There couldn't possibly be better evidence for this approach than the Cowboys' first scoring drive of the second half. Facing a 21-16 deficit at the start of the fourth quarter, the offense would need just five plays to re-take the lead.
Elliott provided the body blows McCarthy mentioned, ripping off gains of 3, 15 and 6 on consecutive snaps. From there, it was Tony Pollard's turn, as the speedster spelled the starter and immediately went 42 yards to pay dirt.
"The O-Line was doing a hell of a job today, making clean holes that me and TP could make our read and burst through and go play," Elliott said.
The end result was something the Cowboys will be hoping to build on. Elliott hit the 100-yard mark for the first time on the season, and – more importantly – his average of 4.9 yards per carry was much healthier than what he'd been managing before the bye week.
Throw in 60 yards on just five carries for Pollard, and the rushing attack racked up 180 yards – which is the best effort of the season by a full 40 yards.
"It's fun to throw the football but at the end of the day, good team football is about having a healthy run game," McCarthy said. "The combination of Zeke and Tony gives us that."
If Elliott didn't pay attention to the noise before, then he's not likely to tune in after one good game. But if he can build on this, he'll dramatically improve the Cowboys' chances from here on out.