Gil LeBreton

Elliott brings thunder in Cowboys’ rematch with old rival Steelers

Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, sprinting past Steelers safety Robert Golden on the game-winning touchdown Sunday, has helped transform an underachieving franchise into a Super Bowl contender.
Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, sprinting past Steelers safety Robert Golden on the game-winning touchdown Sunday, has helped transform an underachieving franchise into a Super Bowl contender.

The finish wasn’t supposed to be that thunderous — or that biblical — Ezekiel Elliott explained.

After 59 minutes of throwing haymakers at one another — two old rivals, joined at their ring fingers in the Super Bowl history books — the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers were churning toward a relatively mundane conclusion.

“We really were just trying to run the ball, run the time down and kick the game-winning field goal,” Elliott said. “But [the Steelers] ended up bringing the pressure. They lost the gap, and the O-line picked it up perfectly.

“It parted like the Red Sea. All I had to do was run.”

Only 9 seconds remained after Elliott burst 32 yards through those parted waters for the touchdown that made the final score Cowboys 35, Steelers 30.

See Zeke run. See Zeke turn an elementary screen pass at the end of the first quarter into an 83-yard touchdown. See Zeke score two more touchdowns in the game’s final minutes. See Zeke go over 1,000 yards rushing in his first NFL season.

Not all that long ago, the Cowboys had a league-leading running back. But when free agent DeMarco Murray reached for the golden pie, Owner Jones said no thanks and the Cowboys searched for other options.

Not all that long ago, the Cowboys thought they had their quarterback, too. But their new one, Dak Prescott, just refuses to lose.

An NFL roster is 53 deep. In his own not-so-thunderous style, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett reminds us of that every week.

But Elliott and Prescott, the two drafted rookies, have transformed this underachieving franchise into a Super Bowl contender.

Veteran tight end Jason Witten lavished high praise on the two after Sunday’s ending.

“You really can’t say enough good things about them,” Witten said. “The thing about them is what they’ve done every Sunday the last nine weeks. It’s pretty remarkable when you think of the two of them being rookies.

“This is a tough league, especially at those positions, and they just continue to play well and handle these situations.”

Sooner or later, we all figured before Sunday, there was going to come a day like this. Having lost three in a row, the Steelers were desperate to right their ship. The largest crowd ever to watch them play in Pittsburgh was there to watch it.

And the Steelers accommodated, grabbing a 12-3 lead. Pittsburgh was dominating.

But on a second-and-18 play from his own 17-yard line, Prescott flipped a simple but textbook screen pass to Elliott, who turned it into an 83-yard sprint to the end zone.

“When I saw our right tackle and right guard running out there, on just a safety, two on one ...,” Elliott said, “they’re running their tails off. Once they got that guy down, it was just pick a spot in the end zone and chase it.”

The touchdown seemed to slap the Cowboys awake from their early slumber. The back-and-forth slugfest was on.

Another lightning bolt moment for the 8-1 Cowboys came when Prescott and Dez Bryant hooked up on a 50-yard touchdown play near the end of the third quarter. Bryant had his most productive day of the season, despite learning that his father had passed away Saturday night.

Bryant went to his knee and gestured to the sky after the go-ahead touchdown.

“We’re a family here,” Elliott said. “Dez is a very important part of our team. He had a great week of practice. I knew he was going to play well today.

“If any of us are going through something tough, we’re going to rally around each other and give the support that’s needed.”

As it turned out, though, the two teams weren’t nearly finished trading big punches.

The Steelers’ would-be winning touchdown came after veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faked a spike and, instead, found Antonio Brown for a 15-yard touchdown with just 42 seconds remaining.

Roethlisberger finished with 408 yards passing and threw for three touchdowns. He was outstanding, but it was Prescott who twice took his team 75 yards in the final seconds.

On the sideline before the winning drive, Elliott said, “I looked at Dak and I was like, ‘Look, man, that’s why we’re here. This is why we’re in Dallas. This is where players become great. This is where great players go on and do what they need to do.’

“He was perfect on that drive. He was tough, stayed in the pocket and made some tough throws.”

Elliott, for his part, made certain to mention his offensive line as he fielded questions about his touchdowns and reaching 1,000 yards.

“Honestly, the most important reason for me getting there is our offensive line,” he said. “We grinded it today. We played hard for four quarters and it showed. Those guys, what they do for me, I can’t thank them enough. I’m just excited about this season.”

Together — the line, Dez, the two rookies — they made it look ordinary.

Cowboys fans know better. They can hear an old thunder.

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