When Ezekiel Elliott gave way to Darren McFadden for the final 20 minutes of Monday night’s victory, the supposition was that the Dallas Cowboys were abandoning any effort to give their MVP candidate a legitimate opportunity to break Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s long-standing rookie rushing record.
Asked about the record, coach Jason Garrett insisted after the game, “We don’t think about that stuff.”
Speaking to reporters after rushing for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a season-low 12 carries, Elliott acknowledged “a bigger purpose for the season.”
“You don’t want to risk anything,” Elliott continued, via Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today. “That’s not really my call to make. I’m going to trust my coaching staff.”
While Garrett and Elliott are toeing the party line, owner Jerry Jones is going off script, unwilling to concede that the 178 yards needed to topple Dickerson are out of reach in the regular-season finale versus the Eagles.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Jones said Tuesday in his weekly radio show with KRLD in Dallas. “He certainly will play and will play a lot, but you can never tell. He might find a good running situation up there and he may approach that record.”
As nonchalantly as Garrett shrugged off the idea of catering to one player’s numbers, Dallas’ coach is in lockstep with Jones’ plan to keep playing with aggressiveness rather than sitting his stars.
“If you start to pull back and pull back,” Garrett explained Monday night, per NFL Network columnist Michael Silver, “you lose some of what you built up over all these weeks, and it makes you vulnerable. We don’t want to do that. We want to go after it.”
With the NFC’s No. 1 seed secured, Garrett is approaching the end of the regular season with the unshakeable confidence of a student of football history. He has exhausted his due diligence as far as playing to win versus bubble-wrapping key starters to avoid the possibility of injury entering the postseason tournament.
“Yeah, there’s a risk,” Garrett acknowledged, “but you’ve gotta play. “There are so many examples out there of teams over the years that pulled back and lost their edge and didn’t look the same in the playoffs, and we don’t want to be one of them.”
If the comments from Garrett and Jones are any indication, Elliott will start Sunday’s game in his customary workhorse role. How long that remains the case depends on game flow and how many yards he can compile on the Cowboys’ first few possessions.
Dickerson’s record is not the only benchmark on the line. Elliott also has a chance to become the first player in the Super Bowl era to capture both Offensive Rookie of the Year honors as well as the MVP award. If he’s going to chase history for four quarters, he has to get off to a flying start in Philadelphia.