Tony Pollard, the team’s leading rusher on the season and top big play threat, got the start against the Colts at running back for the first team with a healthy Ezekiel Elliott active and ready to go.
It was marked the first time Elliott’s career dating back to his rookie season that he didn’t start a game when healthy. Going into Sunday, Elliott has 97 games played and 97 starts.
Elliott and coach Mike McCarthy claimed the Cowboys started Pollard just because it was part of a rotation.
But owner Jerry Jones said it was for disciplinary reasons because Elliott’s phone went off in a position meeting.
“Yeah, think there was a little issue he had with his coach and some discipline issues,” Jones said. ”Being tardy for a meeting or a phone going off or something serious, relative to Zeke, but I won’t get into that, but I’m not giving out that punishment. I’d be a lot more lenient than that.”
Jones reiterated that the Elliott issue wasn’t serious.
“It’s a minor thing that you have with your meetings and your phones and things like that,” Jones said. “That was not a demotion as to the first one on the field. That had more to do with your phone going off at the wrong time, those types of things. Nothing of consequence. Be sure and mention that. No behavior issues.”
But against the Colts, it was Pollard on the field for the first two series and Elliott didn’t come into the game until the 8:41 of the first quarter.
And he made an immediate impact, rushing for 10 yards on his first play.
He and Pollard continued to alternate for much of the game.
Elliott finished with 77 yards on a team-high 17 carries and a crowd-pleasing four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that was capped by him jumping into the Salvation Army red kettle in the back of the end zone and popping up after quarterback Dak Prescott pretended to wind him up with his arms like a “Jack in the Box” toy.
It marked the second straight game that the Cowboys used the kettle for an end zone celebration.
Cowboys tight ends Dalton Schultz ($13,261), Jake Ferguson ($4,895), Peyton Hendershot ($3,944) and Sean McKeon ($4,994) were all fined jumping in the kettle as part of a Whack-a-Mole celebration in the 28-20 victory against the Giants on Thanksgiving day.
“That was all Ezekiel Elliot credit right there,” Prescott said. “I wasn’t even paying attention and Zeke was waving me down. I think I had to run from like the 20 or so. We had a couple of celebrations planned but we were able to get that one in.”
Said Elliott: “I just had to come up with something to try to top the guys from last week. I think it’s kind of hard to beat the whack-a-mole but we queued up the Jack in the Box.”
Elliott’s touchdown was the 76th of his career, moving him past Dez Bryant (75) and tying Bob Hayes (76) for third-most all time in team history.
Pollard finished with 91 yards on 12 carries and touchdowns of 30 and 2 yards.
The Cowboys rushed 34 times for a season-high 220 yards in the game as rookie Malik Davis added three carries for 29 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and receiver CeeDee Lamb had two carries for 23 yards.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy downplayed the opening rotation of Pollard starting as, “I think those guys are an outstanding one-two punch.”
Prescott, who wanted to keep the discipline in house, offered a similar explanation.
“We wanted to change it up,” Prescott said. “And he said going in there second, those guys weren’t as fresh, and he was able to bully up on them a little bit more than usual. At this point, I don’t think it matters who goes in there on the first play of the game. I mean especially now that you’ve said that, whatever streak that is, it’s out the window and doesn’t matter. Those two guys have zero ego. They’re each other’s biggest supporters and biggest fans. They’re a special duo.”
No one would have known about Elliott being benched for discipline if Jones hadn’t spilled the beans.
Pollards leads the Cowboys in rushing for the season with 852 yards on 148 carries with eight touchdowns. He is on the brink if being the first player other than Elliott to lead the Cowboys in rushing as well as top the 1000-yard mark since 2015 when Darren McFadden had 1,089 yards.
Elliott has 654 yards and 8 touchdowns on 157 carries.
The Cowboys have never had two players top 1,000 yards in a season but it is possible in 2022 with five games left.