Gil LeBreton

Elliott’s ‘donation’ brings young Cowboys back to life

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott did his best to promote the team’s primary charity with his “donation” Sunday night.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott did his best to promote the team’s primary charity with his “donation” Sunday night. Special to the Star-Telegram

Rookie Ezekiel Elliott made his donation to the cause Sunday night.

His red kettle deposit wasn’t a bad move, either.

After two games in which their offense struggled to score points and unhinge the first-down chains, Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rediscovered their early-season selves Sunday night.

“One of the words we talked about this week was ‘respond,’ ” coach Jason Garrett said. “How are we going to respond?”

How would the Cowboys respond to last week’s loss in New York, their first defeat after 11 victories in a row?

How would Garrett’s perform with the Giants breathing down their NFC East necks?

How would quarterback Dak Prescott respond after a week of having his starting job subjected to public debate?

The Cowboys answered it all Sunday with a 26-20 victory over a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that had won five in a row.

Two weeks on the cold road of the NFC had been pocked with potholes for the Cowboys. The offense had sputtered in a 17-15 win at Minnesota and scored only a touchdown in last week’s 10-7 loss to the Giants.

Prescott and Elliott, both rookies, had made their 11-1 start look easy.

In a touch of symbolic whimsy, therefore, Elliott ran for a touchdown in Sunday’s second quarter and provided a reminder. Zeke kept running through the end zone and leaped into one of the Salvation Army red kettles that symbolize the team’s primary charity.

Silly? Well, it did cost the Cowboys 15 yards for a celebrating “with props.”

But it also stoked the crowd of 93,101. This was the offense, these were the youthful Cowboys, that had bolted to the best record in the NFL.

“I will tell you, the Salvation Army should give him the highest award,” owner Jerry Jones joked. “My dream is that the NFL would fine the daylights out of me, and I’m going to take them to the Supreme Court and we’re going to get the Salvation Army a lot of notice.”

Lightly used in the first half, despite his kettle deposit run, Elliott finished with 159 yards rushing on 23 carries. A fourth quarter dash off right tackle and up the sideline covered 42 yards and helped seal the victory with Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal.

It didn’t take the kettle to remind anyone that the Cowboys’ offense is at its best — and Prescott at his most efficient — when Elliott is running the football behind the league’s best line.

Somehow, he gets forgotten. Even Sunday night, most of Garrett’s postgame questions centered around Prescott and the past week.

“He’s a really good football player,” Garrett said of his first-year running back, “and he demonstrates that week in, week out.

“He controls the game for us in so many ways. I think he rushed for 6 or 7 yards an attempt and got stronger as the game went on.”

The head coach admitted that he wasn’t crazy about the touchdown celebration, even if the owner was.

“He shouldn’t have done it,” Garrett said. “I thought it was creative, but he shouldn’t have done it. You have to understand what’s legal and what’s not legal.

“You can jump into the stands in Green Bay, but you can’t jump into a Salvation Army bucket in Dallas. So we have to be more mindful of that. I’ve got to coach that better.”

The coach was joking. The Cowboys were having fun again.

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