Ezekiel Elliot might or might not be a quitter, depending on your interpretation of his lack of effort on a play in the Dallas Cowboys’ 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday.
But Elliott is not a coward.
The star-crossed running back has heard all the criticism and knew he had to answer for his actions, privately and publicly.
So as the media filed into the locker room Thursday, Elliott was sitting patiently at his locker.
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He sat for a little over eight minutes while quarterback Dak Prescott held court in front of a throng of cameras.
Then Elliott stood up, as the expected spotlight came toward him.
Elliott made no attempt to challenge an allegation of him quitting on his team from Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson for walking off the field and not attempting to make a tackle following a Prescott interception.
He owned up to his actions and took full responsibility.
“I definitely heard it,” Elliott said. “I guess you could say it looked like that. I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape. I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett showed the play to Elliott and addressed it in front of the team. Garrett said the second-year running back accepted the teaching moment in the right way and that they are ready to put the situation behind them.
“Zeke is a professional,” Garrett said. “Zeke knows how to play football at this level. He’s demonstrated that over the course of his career. He’s not perfect. Nobody is perfect. When things happen, we address them. We coach them and then we move forward.”
Elliott is moving forward but also understood this was something he had to address.
The 2016 NFL leading rusher, and foundation of the offense, blamed it on being frustrated with having the worst performance of his life and the helplessness of the blowout loss.
“Just bad effort,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely not me. It’s definitely not the type of player I am. It’s definitely not who I am for this team. I just can’t do that. I was frustrated, and I wasn’t myself.”
The players in the locker room have rallied around Elliott.
“For me, I know who he is,” Prescott said. “I know the type of football player he is, and the type of guy he is. I’ve never, and never will, question his competitiveness or his lack of effort or whatever you want to say. I know he’s going to be there for me, for his teammates, for this organization, so I don’t pay attention to what other people say.”
Elliott appreciates the support, but is not surprised.
“We’re a close team,” Elliott said. “We believe in each other. We know what we are all capable of doing. Through ups and downs, we’re together. I made a mistake on last Sunday, and we’re a team. We’re together. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
The Cowboys play at Arizona on Monday night. There is no extra motivation to silence critics or prove anyone wrong, including Tomlinson.
“We really don’t care what you guys say,” Elliott said. “We don’t care what the critics say. We don’t go out there and play for you guys. We don’t go out there and play for the talking heads. We don’t go out there and play for you guys to say we did well. We go out there to play for each other. We go out there to win ballgames. We go out there to have each other’s back. So that’s our motivation. We don’t need anything extra.”
And after 5 minutes, he was done.