When the Dallas Cowboys’ plan to keep the benching of running back Ezekiel Elliott in-house was foiled by the loose lips of owner Jerry Jones, there was initial frustration from Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott had no interest in talking about it in a joyous locker room following Sunday’s 54-19 victory against the Indianapolis Colts.
But by Monday afternoon, it was all fun and games.
When asked about Elliott’s 97-game streak as a starter coming to an end, Jones was quick to spill the beans, while adding his personal spin.
“There was a little issue that he had with his coach of some discipline issues that were being tardy for a meeting or a phone going off or something serious relative to Zeke,” Jones said. “I won’t get into that. But I am not giving out that punishment. I’d be a lot more lenient than that.”
Fast forward to Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s day-after-the-game press conference Monday. McCarthy confirmed the discipline. But he refused to elaborate.
“I mean, I think those type of things, whatever extent it was, those are really situations for the locker room,” he said. “I know we’re in the everything is available, content-creating environment, but I don’t think this is one of those cases.”
“I feel like a lawyer,” McCarthy responded when asked again. “How am I doing …Things happen. So it’s a long year. Zeke is an incredible member of our football team. So it’s a long year. I think what he does as a teammate, forget about how he plays and the success he’s had on the field, he’s a tremendous teammate. He’s always involved in all of the group dynamic activities and things like that, both in the building and out of the building. This is just part of the process”
Things went off the rails when a public relations staffer’s phone went off a few moments later and McCarthy couldn’t resist.
He asked the media what the punishment should be.
The overwhelming response was a “one-game benching.”
The quick-witted McCarthy replied tongue-in-cheek: “I would be more lenient”
Laughter ensued and McCarthy feigned a mic drop.
The response to Elliot’s benching showed accountability within the Cowboys organization — proving the team is resilient and showing players support each other.
Elliott was benched but he didn’t sulk. He responded with a strong effort, rushing 17 times for 77 yards. Pollard led the way with 12 carries for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
“TP went in there and then Zeke came in and I think he handled it really, really well,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said. “Zeke’s a rock star. He’s handled this season phenomenal.”
And it was Elliott who had the crowd at AT&T Stadium chanting his name following a 22-yard run in the fourth quarter. The fans then went crazy when he followed a 4-yard touchdown run by jumping in the Salvation Army red kettle in the back of the end zone and playing Jack-in-the Box with Prescott.
McCarthy said the situation spoke volumes about Elliott and the Cowboys.
“Well, I just think it all goes back to the focus and the priorities,” McCarthy said. “This is a really good locker room that has really good leadership. I think it’s really speaks to what we’re building. It’s a great example and some insight into how the locker room functions.”