Ezekiel Elliott has been dealing with a calf issue since the Dallas Cowboy’s Week 13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. He didn’t miss any time on the field, and all signs pointed to him making his 70th career start in as many games in Week 15, so we thought.
About 90 minutes before the Cowboys were set to kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Elliott was a late-game scratch. This setup second-year Running Back Tony Pollard to get the start, and he didn’t disappoint.
Pollard got his productive day started on the Cowboy’s second possession. After a 3 and out on their first drive, the Cowboys recovered a fumble on a punt at their own 22. Pollard had the ball in his hands for all five plays (three rushes, two receptions) and capped it off with a one-yard touchdown run to put the Cowboys up 7-0.
The Cowboys held a 27-24 lead with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter. They were set up at the 46 yard line after an interception by Anthony Brown. Up until that point, Pollard had only gained 23 yards on 10 carries, however, he saved his best play for last. After a six-yard run on first down, Pollard blew the doors off of AT&T Stadium. He juked cornerback Richard Sherman, spun to avoid three potential tacklers, and effectively sealed the game for the Cowboys with a 40-yard touchdown run.
“My guys did a good job holding their blocks, and I just let my natural ability make up for the rest,” Pollard said.
The Cowboys rookie sensation CeeDee Lamb had glowing praise for Pollard and how he stepped up in the absence of Elliott.
“The 40-yarder was just icing on the cake,” Lamb said. “He balled. Obviously, with Zeke being out, I know he felt a lot of weight on his shoulders when he was named the starter. But guys like TP, they’re ready for it.”
Running the football wasn’t the only way Pollard produced on Sunday. During his days at Memphis, he caught 104 passes for 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns. On Sunday against the 49ers, Pollard showed that dynamic ability by hauling in six receptions for 63 yards. In total, he finished with 132 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in place of Elliott.
Playing alongside a runner like Elliott you have to make the most of your opportunities when they present themselves. Pollard did just that in the first game of his career without Elliott.
“It was big for me, a dream come true — being in the league, getting a chance to start the game out, knowing the team would be dependent on me,” Pollard said, via the team’s official website. “I just tried to take advantage and make the most of it.”
Even the two-time rushing champ was gushing over Pollard’s performance on Sunday.
“It was great,” Elliott said. “He’s a guy who you know is super explosive, you know he can break one at any moment. Before the last play, I told him to go put it on ice, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Pollard racked up 455 yards on 86 carries as a rookie (5.3 yards per attempt) and has followed that up with 408 yards on 87 carries (4.7 yards per attempt) this season. Simply put, he’s extremely dynamic with the ball in his hands and feels the Cowboys have a plethora of guys that can help them win games.
“It’s big. Just knowing that everything doesn’t have to run through one guy, or a few guys,” Pollard said. “There’s different guys on the team that can carry the weight, help take some of the weight off the other guys’ shoulders, the leaders on the team. It’s definitely big.”
The Cowboys are now only one game back of the Washington Football Team for the top spot in the NFC East. Of course, if Elliott is capable of playing he’ll get the start against the rival Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday. However, if an unfortunate situation comes about and he can’t go the Cowboys should be confident that Pollard can run them to victory.