Dallas Cowboys

Dez Bryant and the frightening thought of a Zeke-less Cowboys

In the matchup between the Team that Creates the Perception of Honoring the Flag versus The Kneelers, the clear winner was Ezekiel Elliott, which is ironic because Zeke hasn’t had a lot of wins this season.

Zeke says he will be available for next week’s game at Washington, but the truth is he doesn’t know. All he can do is pretend he knows, because at this point neither he nor anyone with the Dallas Cowboys has a clue about how this situation will unfold.

The NFL is appealing the latest temporary restraining order — which allows him to play against the NFL’s six-game suspension — and hopes to expedite the decision that could potentially prevent him from playing in Washington on Sunday.

Or that move could fail, and the next ruling will be on Oct. 30, the day after the game against the Redskins.

The only thing we do know is that with Zeke the Cowboys can be a playoff team and maybe win a game or two in the postseason. Without Zeke, the Cowboys go from a two-man offense to a solo act featuring Dak ‘N’ Friends.

This offense is more Zeke-centric than we realized, because, for whatever reason, receiver Dez Bryant is disappearing before our eyes. With Zeke, the Cowboys have a shot. Without Zeke, it’s all on Dak.

Against the God-awful San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Cowboys played their best game of the season to win 40-10 with Zeke playing like an NFL MVP.

Zeke ran 26 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns, and he turned a short Dak flip into a 72-yard touchdown pass. Give the 49ers a fist-bump for being horrendous, but the Cowboys were going to beat any team on Sunday.

“I put [court proceedings] all aside when I get with these guys,” Zeke said after the game. “These guys do a good job of giving something else to think about, keep me up no matter what is going on out there. I am just happy to be out here.”

That’s about as much as Zeke has admitted that his off-the-field issues have been a distraction this season, when common sense says they would be an obstacle for any normal person. Whatever you think about the particulars of the case, any person would be distracted from their daily responsibilities when they are involved in a court case of this magnitude; this isn’t a traffic ticket.

This is hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers in a high-profile court case that is being played out in the public and in the relentlessly nasty world of social media. This scenario would tax a Starbucks barista just like it would anyone else.

“I want him to have landed with a fair, fair, fair picture, perception of where he is on this matter,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He does not have ... the way that this has come down from the NFL, it has not presented him in a fair light.”

As a player, Zeke is painted in the most glowing of colors, textures and hues.

“Zeke is a phenomenal player. You have to watch for which gaps that he goes to; he is all around,” 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster said. “It doesn’t matter what type of scheme that you run. He is just a freakish player about finding gaps and playing really good football.”

And as long Zeke plays, the Cowboys are fine. The offensive line is getting their junk together and the offense has scored 30-plus points in three straight games.

“We do a good job of blocking the same for anybody,” guard Zack Martin said. “Obviously, you’re not going to just replace a guy like that.”

Nope. And if a judge declares at any point this season that Zeke is an N-O for the next six games, per the NFL’s wishes, the Cowboys are going to be a lot more Dak than anyone wants to admit. Not unless Dez Bryant wants to join the party again.

Against San Francisco, Dez “went off” with seven catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. This was easily his best game of the season.

For whatever reason, Dez has not been the same since 2014, when he was a dominant player on a dominant offense. He’s had an injury or two, but he’s just not winning one-on-one matchups.

He’s on pace for 67 catches, which would be his fewest in a season in which he has been mostly healthy since his second year in the league (2011).

This is his eighth NFL season, but he is only 28. We are not talking about an old man by NFL standards. We are also talking about a guy who has had three 1,000-yard seasons and has a history of running hot and cold.

We are also talking about a guy who needs to produce more. Terrance Williams has all but vanished from the offense, and the Cowboys can’t expect to get too far by asking Brice Butler to be their go-to receiver.

Dez is not the focal point, but he has to be more than a decoy, especially if/when Zeke is out.

Now, maybe Zeke will catch a win should the judge rule in his favor. That is the ruling the Cowboys, and Zeke, are praying will be handed down.

Because, by now, we all know the Cowboys have a decent chance with Zeke.

If they don’t have Zeke, then they will all need to take a knee — not in protest before a flag but before a cross with a prayer.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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