ARLINGTON, Texas — Every day, it seems, there is one more new twist to the case of Ezekiel Elliott.
On Sunday night, though, the news about the Cowboys’ gifted young running back was all on the football field.
After all manner of appeals, lawsuits, injunctions and other machinations surrounding him, Elliott took his familiar place in the backfield for the opening series of Dallas’ season opener against the Giants at AT&T Stadium.
“You just have to block it out,” Elliott said after the Cowboys’ 19-3 victory. “I have to focus on being the guy I need to be for this team. Just being a high-energy guy.”
Elliott, who last season ran for an NFL-high 1,631 yards to lead Dallas to the NFC East title, didn’t necessarily add the same sort of spark he provided in 2016, when he led the league with 14 runs of at least 20 yards, but he made a solid contribution.
The 228-pound back gained 104 yards on 24 carries and added five catches for 36 yards, including a 30-yard reception that allowed Dallas to control the ball and the clock.
The Cowboys dominated time of possession, especially in the first half, when they held the ball for 20:33.
“Zeke makes a big difference, as you can see from this game when he wasn’t in there,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I felt like the team would compete if in fact we didn’t have any player out there. That’s the thing you say. But we miss Zeke if we don’t have him. That’s all I can say. It’s inspirational to this team to know we could potentially have him all year.”
That’s possible because on Friday, a federal district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking the six-game suspension handed down by the NFL in connection with a domestic-violence accusation. The suspension had been upheld on appeal by an independent arbitrator, but the ruling by Judge Amos L. Mazzant III put the suspension on hold while the case is litigated in court.
“Just relieved,” Elliott said of the ruling. “Just relieved about the fact that I’m finally going to get a fair opportunity and a chance to prove my innocence.
“I’m not even going to speak about that. I just want to talk about this team and this football game and the way we played.”
The injunction means Elliott is likely to remain on the field for the foreseeable future, though the cloud of uncertainty over him remains. The NFL is expected to file an appeal in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That could lead to the suspension being reinstated, or it could simply drag the story out even longer.
Elliott’s teammates say none of that matters to them. Whether he plays or not is not what they’re focused on.
“We always take the mantra of next man up,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We have a lot of confidence in that position. Rod Smith had a great camp, and Alfred Morris has had some success in this league. Darren McFadden’s the same way, a good veteran player.
“Certainly, a guy like Zeke is a game-changer, but we have a lot of confidence and we feel like no one person feels like they have to carry the weight of the organization.”
Still, Jones knows the reality is a little different. One glance at his offense with Morris in the backfield told him so.
“It really looked impressive when was in there,” he said. “When anybody else was in there, it didn’t look as impressive. That’s not taking anything away [from anyone else], but it’s just obvious. He has such speed and power and it really gives us a lot of balance when he can be in there.
“I think every person who is a part of the Cowboys was lifted by that decision. It was a good one . . . It was certainly an inspiration.”