By 11 p.m. Sunday, LaDainian Tomlinson was the talking point for the Dallas Cowboys, and by 6 a.m. Monday, he was the focal point of the NFL.
Among the many bad plays made by the Cowboys in their 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos, one caught the eye of LT. And all of us in the Mile High press box missed it, present company included.
LT went on the NFL Network and ripped Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott after he walked away when Broncos cornerback Chris Harris intercepted a pass in the second quarter.
LT used the dirtiest four-letter word in sports: “He quit.”
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Last guy I recall quitting the way Zeke did was Rajon Rondo on the Mavs in Game 2 of the 2015 NBA playoffs.
Even after the comments went viral, LT has not backed down. Nor should he. Zeke should listen to a man like LT. We all should.
“For me it was just mind-boggling to see that from Zeke,” LT told me in a phone interview Wednesday. “To see him not showing any effort at all, which was the whole point of it. I see the potential from him. He can be a really, really good player in this league. There are some things he needs to be challenged on to reach his full potential. It was just constructive criticism because I was not trying to call him out.”
Immediately after the game I asked Zeke if the distractions related to his potential six-game suspension has affected his play.
His answer, “No.”
Yeah — don’t believe it. The man is human.
In Week 1 against the New York Giants, when he ran for 104 yards on 24 carries and caught five passes for 36 yards, the potential suspension did not appear to be a drag on his mind, legs, hands or feet.
But there is no algorithm that says a player’s production will be affected by so many yards and touchdowns if he is dealing with an off-the-field distraction.
“You’ve got to look at the whole picture and what he’s facing with the suspension and what he has been through,” LT said. “Now it’s matriculating onto the field. You see it. I am not the only one, either. We talk about it when I’m at the NFL Network, and a lot of us are concerned with where this young man is going. You have to be concerned. This is not just a maturity issue.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett made a point of saying this week he would have a conversation about the play with his running back. The enabler-in-chief, Hall of Famer Jerry Jones, who is never one to criticize his players, said in his weekly radio show on 105.3 The Fan that a lot of other players demonstrated similar indifference on the play.
In LT’s mind, there is nothing OK about what Zeke did. Because it means something else.
“It speaks to certain views and fans of Zeke, or Cowboys fans, and they don’t see a thing wrong about that,” LT said. “If you don’t see anything wrong about that, that speaks to what you have inside that you are willing to give up and quit on maybe it’s your own job.
“If you are real with yourself and critical of yourself and watch the film and they know something is wrong, you don’t allow people to make excuses for you.
“You say, ‘I got frustrated and I didn’t react the way I should have.’ That’s OK. That happens. If you have people who say, ‘(LT) doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ it’s going to happen again. I’ve heard Jason and Jerry, and I hope Jason did have the conversation.”
All of this is common sense, but, remember, LT is a different beast.
Coming out of high school, LT was a nobody and did not become a starting running back for a non-Power 5 school until his junior season. The man earned all of it.
Zeke was a four-star recruit from an exclusive private school in suburban St. Louis. He was the starting running back as a sophomore at one of the biggest celebrity football teams in the nation, Ohio State.
“There are coaches who will say, ‘I am going to address this or it’s going to tear the football team apart,’ ” LT said. “When I played and when we were watching film, if a coach called out a second-string guy for what he did on a route, and he didn’t do the same thing for the star player, guys lost respect for that coach.
“That’s how a team starts to divide. If Jason is really not saying anything about what Zeke did to him, he’s going to lose that team. It’s inevitable players will lose respect for a coach when they know it’s wrong.”
This is not some sports radio talk-show guy throwing out the latest hot take. This isn’t some self-important sports writer bloviating about America’s team (those people are the worst).
Zeke, are you listening?
Mac Engel: @macengelprof