Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys bench Elliott in fourth quarter after 2nd fumble

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) and defensive back Dashaun Phillips (35) in the third quarter. Elliott was benched by the Cowboys for the second half of the fourth quarter after fumbling again as the Cowboys won 27-23 Sunday at FedExField.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) and defensive back Dashaun Phillips (35) in the third quarter. Elliott was benched by the Cowboys for the second half of the fourth quarter after fumbling again as the Cowboys won 27-23 Sunday at FedExField. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Ezekiel Elliott switched gloves on the sidelines after his second fumble.

The Dallas Cowboys rookie running back never got to break in those gloves, though.

Elliott watched the final 6:56 of the Cowboys’ 27-23 victory on the sidelines. The team went with veteran Alfred Morris down the stretch, as they couldn’t afford Elliott coughing up the ball again.

Elliott made no excuses for his fumbles, and took no satisfaction in having a better encore performance — at least statistically — than his professional debut last week against the Giants.

“It really doesn’t matter what I did,” Elliott said. “I had those two fumbles, and that’s what was important.”

Elliott, 21, finished with 83 rushing yards on 21 carries, including a 1-yard TD plunge in the first quarter. It marked a significantly better outing than his debut when he rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries.

But the fumbles overshadowed everything else for the fourth overall pick. Washington cornerback Josh Norman stripped the ball from Elliott late in the third quarter in Dallas territory.

The Redskins turned that into a field goal drive.

Obviously you have to protect the football. That’s line one in football, and certainly line one for a running back. He’ll learn from the experiences.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Ezekiel Elliott

Then, with 6:56 left in the game, Elliott fumbled again. He said he lost it running into the back of the his own offensive line, although Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy got credit for the forced fumble.

Fortunately for Elliott and the Cowboys, right tackle Doug Free pounced on the loose ball. But Elliott didn’t see the field again after that.

“Obviously you have to protect the football,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s line one in football, and certainly line one for a running back. He’ll learn from the experiences.”

Elliott watched backup Alfred Morris become the star of the game in his return to the nation’s capital, scoring what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 4:49 left.

Sure, Elliott would’ve liked to be the guy who delivered that TD, but he was among the first to congratulate Morris on the sidelines.

“He deserved it. He definitely deserved it,” Elliott said. “We work together to make each other better, on and off the field. We critique each other. Glad to see him get in there.”

Elliott couldn’t remember a game in which he fumbled twice in, and ball security had always been a strength of his at Ohio State. Elliott had 650 offensive touches with the Buckeyes, and fumbled just four times in his standout college career.

Owner Jerry Jones didn’t seem overly concerned about Elliott’s fumbles, and neither did executive vice president Stephen Jones.

Each of them feel Elliott will address the issue immediately and continued to rave about what Elliott brings to the offense.

“Zeke does a lot for us, he actually opens it up for us out there,” Jerry Jones said. “We will take more advantage of it. Zeke is influencing very much the defenses we play. It was unfortunate that he had those back-to-back [fumbles], but boy he finishes hard. He runs hard, those are collisions out there. He’s making a lot of that happen so you get those.”

Added Stephen Jones: “Obviously he’s got to fix [the fumbles] and he will. But it doesn’t take an expert to see he has a lot of skills out there and he’s going to continue to get better.”

At the end of the day, the Cowboys managed to win the game despite those fumbles by Elliott. They did the same thing last year in Washington when running back Darren McFadden fumbled twice.

Still, turnovers are tough to overcome most days in the NFL and Garrett preaches that on a daily basis.

But Elliott has flashed enough potential early on in his career that nobody within the organization seemed overly concerned about his performance.

As wide receiver Dez Bryant said, “You got to move on. Things happen in this league. Zeke is an outstanding football player and he’s going to be one of those great ones in this league. You got to let it go and shake it off. … We need Zeke, we love Zeke and he’s going to be that monster.”

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