Dak Prescott had a rough outing on Sunday. So did Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s hard to find much good for the Cowboys after a 25-point blowout loss to the Denver Broncos.
But the effort level within the game is what stands out the most to coach Jason Garrett. Prescott passed with flying colors even though the passing game must improve. Elliott did not.
Garrett wasn’t pleased with Elliott’s efforts after the Broncos intercepted Prescott twice, including a 103-yard return for a touchdown by Aqib Talib late in the game. Elliott wasn’t seen trying to prevent that score, and had his hands on his hips on an earlier interception as Chris Harris Jr. returned it 23 yards.
Hall of Famer and TCU great LaDainian Tomlinson blasted Elliott for “quitting” on his team in analyzing the game for NFL Network. Garrett wouldn’t say Elliott “quit” on the team, but certainly didn’t play up to the team’s standards on those two interceptions.
“One of the things we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there is a turnover, everybody is involved,” Garrett said. “If you’re an offensive player, become a defensive player on a fumble or an interception.
“Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I’ve ever been around. He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we’ve seen that through his first year playing. Those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor that he was and we have to get that addressed.”
Expect the Cowboys to address it by showing those plays to the team this week as a teaching moment of what not to do. Expect them also to show plays where Elliott showcases his competitive nature.
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Garrett said he had “no idea” why Elliott had such an uncharacteristic game, although frustration likely set in with Elliott who had only 8 yards on nine carries.
“I haven’t spoken to him specifically. He certainly could have been frustrated,” Garrett said. “Obviously, he had been very productive as a running back over the course of his career and certainly in the NFL up to this point and he had a game where he carried the ball nine times for 8 yards, so there’s no question frustration could have set in.
“Those plays were uncharacteristic of him. We’ll certainly address it with him, but we have to address that with our entire team. That’s not the way we play.”
Prescott, on the other hand, drew praise from Garrett for how he handled his forgettable day. Prescott had his second career multi-interception game, was sacked twice and hit seven times and injured his ankle on a run on the last play of the first quarter.
But Garrett admired how Prescott didn’t sulk in the moment and kept attacking as best he could.
Garrett pointed to a sequence late in the game when Von Miller sacked Prescott on second down. He then scrambled for 11 yards on third down to give the Cowboys a manageable fourth-and-3. Even though the Cowboys failed to convert the fourth down, Garrett raved about the fight Prescott displayed throughout the game.
“Watch the tape of No. 4. No. 4 is a special player,” Garrett said. “It was not an easy game for him. Got knocked around a little bit, got banged up early. And talk about a guy who battles. Talk about a guy who fights. Talk about a guy who leads the team under adversity, under duress. It was special.
“I reflect back on the best quarterbacks I’ve been around. Oftentimes, the games I remember most are the ones that the situations are the most challenging. And you see how they respond. How they respond to a turnover, how they respond to guys hitting them in the face over and over and over again. You’ve heard me say this before, my old man says you can hit him in the face with a shovel and he keeps coming back. That’s what Dak Prescott again demonstrated yesterday. I have no real concern about him responding the right way.”
The key going forward, as Garrett said, is for Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the team to bounce back from the nightmarish game at Mile High.
After his only multi-interception game last season against the New York Giants, Prescott responded by completing 32 of 36 passes for 279 yards and rushing for a score in a 26-20 victory over Tampa Bay.
Elliott’s worst game until Sunday was his NFL debut against the Giants last season. He rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries. He didn’t have the best encore after that, rushing for 83 yards and fumbling twice at Washington.
But Elliott got it together in Week 3, beginning a stretch of four consecutive 130-plus yard games and ending up as the league’s rushing champion with 1,631 yards.
He had a streak of 16 consecutive games with at least 80 rushing yards come to an end Sunday.
Garrett is confident that Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the team will respond and rebound the right way when they take on the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.
“We’ve got to go back to work,” Garrett said. “There were some things in that game, believe it or not, that were good. We’ve got to build on those things. There were some other things that obviously weren’t good and you’ve got to correct them.
“Oftentimes people when you win a game, they think everything is great. It’s not true. When you lose a game, they think everything is terrible. That’s not true either. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. Build on the good stuff, address the bad stuff and keep moving forward.”