There were two acts to the Shakespearean tragedy that was the Dallas Cowboys’ 21-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Act I, in which the would-be hero unjustly scorned by the powers that be, depending on your view of running back Ezekiel Elliott, returned to the fray as the focal point of the Cowboys offense.
And then there was Act II, in which Elliott’s progress was bottlenecked by the Seattle defense, or maybe by his own coaching staff.
Consider this: Of Zeke’s 24 carries against the Seahawks, nearly half (11) came in the first quarter. That’s when he gained 51 of his 97 yards on the ground in his first game back from that whole six-game suspension thing.
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He had just four rushes in the second quarter, but the productivity was still there as he accumulated 22 yards.
When asked after the game if he saw anything materially different from the Seahawks after his battering ram of a first quarter, he replied, “Nothing.”
“We’ve had success running it against them before,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “We got some good looks. We just weren’t able to turn them into touchdowns.”
Call it game-flow. Call it moving away from the run while facing a two-score deficit after the Seahawks took a 21-12 lead with 11:59 to play on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin. But Zeke got just nine carries in the second half — two in the fourth quarter in the season’s crunchiest of crunch times.
The biggest “Where’s Zeke” moment came on the ensuing Dallas drive. A 29-yard pass interference penalty put the Cowboys into the red zone.
Witten caught a pass two plays later, taking the ball down to the Seattle 3.
First-and-goal. Three tries. None of those plays ended with the ball in Zeke’s arms.
“In hindsight, I wish, we all wish that we’d tried Zeke there,” owner Jerry Jones said after the game. “They were really stacking it up for us; we all understood that. We’ve seen and had a lot of good things happen for us with Dak faking that ball in there and keeping it himself.
“But at the end, I’d like to have them all back down there and just tried to see what we could do with Zeke all the way up there.”
Zeke acknowledged in the locker room that the first-and-goal play was a run-pass option for Dak Prescott, who ended up keeping the ball for a yard before a Witten holding penalty backed up the Cowboys, ultimately leading to one of two missed field goals by the normally-dependable Dan Bailey.
But neither Zeke nor Witten went anywhere close to Jones in terms of second-guessing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s play-calling near the goal line.
“My job is to play football. My job is not to coach. It’s not to call plays,” Elliott said. “Coach Linehan has been doing this for a long time and he knows what he is doing. They were playing the run in the red zone. The safety was basically lined up as a linebacker.”
Witten didn’t want to go there, either.
“I’ve never second-guessed coaching,” he said. “Scott’s been a big-time play-caller in this league for a long time. I would never question that or think twice about that.”
The players may keep their second-guesses to themselves, but a stadium full of Cowboys fans who got a pile of silver-and-blue coal in their stockings weren’t quite as reserved in their judgment.