FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott was accused of quitting by Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson in Dallas’ 42-17 loss to Denver.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett never directly disagreed Monday.
While heaping praise on quarterback Dak Prescott for continuing to show fight in his first blowout loss as a pro, Garrett said he eventually would talk to Elliott about the second-year running back twice failing to pursue a defensive back after an interception.
Garrett’s comments to reporters came a few hours after his radio show, when he similarly passed on a chance to dismiss Tomlinson’s criticism.
“Zeke is one of the most natural competitors I’ve ever been around,” Garrett said. “He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we’ve seen that through his first year playing. Those two plays were not indicative of the kind of competitor that he was and we have to get that addressed.”
Prescott won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and Elliott was the league’s leading rusher as the dynamic pair debuted with the best record in the NFC at 13-3 before a divisional playoff loss to Green Bay.
Elliott had 15 straight games of at least 80 yards rushing and had never had fewer than 51 before he was held to 8 yards on nine carries against the ball-hawking Broncos, who made it their priority to stop Elliott and force the Cowboys to beat them with the passing of Prescott.
After getting dropped for a 5-yard loss on his first carry of the second half, Elliott had five carries for 0 yards.
“He certainly could have been frustrated,” Garrett said. “Obviously he had been very productive as a running back over the course of his career and certainly in the NFL up to this point. There’s no question frustration could have set in, but I have not had a conversation with him yet.”
After the game, Elliott flatly rejected the notion that his mind is elsewhere with all the legal drama surrounding his six-game suspension over a domestic case in Ohio. The NFL wants a federal appeals court to overrule an injunction that blocked the suspension while the case plays out.
Elliott simply had nowhere to run, and didn’t fare much better when the Cowboys tried to throw to him on the outside. He had four catches for 14 yards.
“I feel like if he would have made some of those plays on the outside, it would have probably forced them to get in the zone more than their man coverage that they were in a majority of the night,” Prescott said. “That’s when our run game hits.”
Tomlinson’s comments didn’t surface until after Elliott had appeared in the visiting locker room, where the former Ohio State star acknowledged being frustrated but said he wouldn’t be discouraged.
“You can’t forget about it,” said Elliott, who was averaging 108 yards per game in his career before facing Denver’s vaunted defense for the first time. “You’ve got to evaluate what happened and you got to build on it.”
On the first Denver interception, Elliott stopped and just watched from nearby as Chris Harris Jr. started a 23-yard return to the Dallas 23. On the second, Elliott had fallen down away from the sideline where Aqib Talib started his 103-yard return for the punctuating touchdown.
While Elliott made no effort to run down Talib, Prescott desperately tried to shed the blocks of linebacker Brandon Marshall before finally surrendering as Talib turned toward the middle of the field to finish the score.
“One of the things that is the foundation of our football team is fight,” Garrett said. “That’s one of the reasons we love Zeke Elliott. Again those plays were uncharacteristic of him. We’ll certainly address it with him but we have to address that with our entire team.”
By SCHUYLER DIXON, AP Pro Football Writer
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