Dallas Cowboys

Would the Cowboys have made playoffs if Ezekiel Elliott played all 16 games?

Ezekiel Elliott walks away from a difficult season that included a six-game suspension, but he still managed to rush 983 yards on 242 carries after gaining 103 yards Sunday against the Eagles.
Ezekiel Elliott walks away from a difficult season that included a six-game suspension, but he still managed to rush 983 yards on 242 carries after gaining 103 yards Sunday against the Eagles. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t interested in playing the “what if” game. He avoided answering a question about whether the Dallas Cowboys would have been a playoff team had he been eligible for all 16 games.

“I don’t know,” Elliott said. “It’s up for you guys to say that. Not me.”

Pressed about it later, Elliott said: “The fact of the matter is it doesn’t matter. What’s the point of going ‘what if’? It already happened. You just got to look forward and control what you can control and make sure we come back ready next year, ready to contend and make it to the playoffs.”

Well, Elliott made a compelling argument in his sophomore season finale that things might have turned out differently had he not served a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from a July 2016 domestic violence allegation.

Elliott did something against an Eagles defense that boasted the top-ranked run defense and hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past 26 games.

Elliott passed the 100-yard mark by finishing with 103 yards on 27 carries in the Cowboys’ 6-0 victory.

“He’s huge for our offense,” right tackle La’el Collins said. “He can just do so many different things. He’s an every-down back and you can see that week in and week out every time he’s on the field. It was great to be able to get him back for the last couple of games.”

And Collins didn’t hesitate when asked if the Cowboys would’ve been a playoff team had Elliott been available every game.

“No doubt,” Collins said.

Other players wouldn’t go that far.

“I have no comment on that,” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said.

Added linebacker Sean Lee: “Well, we felt we were close enough in these games that we could’ve won no matter what. We lost too many close games and situations where we needed to execute, we didn’t.”

All of it’s in the past now. Elliott said he is at peace with everything and is ready to move on.

He had a prolonged legal fight with the NFL on its grounds to suspend him — he was never arrested or charged with domestic violence by the Columbus, Ohio, city prosecutor’s office.

Elliott managed to hold off the suspension for the first eight games, but eventually realized the almost impossible battle he faced against the league in court because of the collective bargaining agreement.

As far as Elliott’s concerned, it’s all about football going forward and he wished the Cowboys were still in contention.

“I’m actually sad the season is over. I wish it would’ve ended differently,” Elliott said. “I wish we were playing in the playoffs right now. But I’m happy to have everything behind me.

“I’m happy to move forward. I’m going to use it as fuel for next year.”

Elliott fell short of reaching his stated goal of 1,000 yards. Last year’s rushing champion finished his second year with 983 yards on 242 carries. His yards per attempt dipped from 5.1 to 4.1, and his yards per game dropped from 108.7 to 98.3.

But Elliott felt he had a good season all things considered.

“I think I had a good season for the number of games I played,” Elliott said. “I wish I would’ve hit that 1,000-yard mark today. I got close, but I didn’t quite get there. I think I definitely had a solid season.”

As stated, Elliott wanted to join Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett as the only running backs in franchise history to begin their careers with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. But he’s accomplished plenty early on.

Sunday marked his 12th career 100-yard game, including fifth of the season. In other words, he’s almost a lock for a 100-yard performance every other week. He also is second for most rushing yards in a player’s first 25 games (2,614) behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (2,771).

But Elliott knows the yards are only going to become more difficult to accumulate as his career goes forward.

“It’s only going to get tougher and tougher. You’re only going to see thicker and thicker boxes,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely not going to get easier.”

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