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Dallas Cowboys news: Ezekiel Elliott’s back for final playoff push

And other stuff, but the spotlight was clearly on Ezekiel Elliott as he returned from suspension

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott Returns To Dallas Cowboys: From ‘Witch Hunt’ To Playoff Hunt - Mike Fisher, Cowboys HQ
The Cowboys hope to get a boost from the long-awaited return of star running back Ezekiel Elliott from suspension. The question of course is if it will be enough.

The Cowboys' immediate task is to judge Elliott's readiness for immediate installation into the gameplan for Sunday's Christmas Eve visit from the Seattle Seahawks, a literal must-win game for playoff-hopeful Dallas.

“What kind of condition are they in, how’s their movement, can they sustain it, do they look functional, do they look smooth, do they look natural out there,” Garrett said of what coaches will look for today. “And again, we anticipate him being able to do all the things we ask him to do and hopefully get him re-acclimated quickly.”

The "re-acclimation'' is almost certain. Less certain, of course, is whether Elliott's return comes in time to rescue a Dallas team that floundered for three games before its present three-game winning streak that positions this locker room as the most confident 8-6 group in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys still have chance at playoffs with Ezekiel Elliott back - Todd Archer, ESPN
The hope is that Elliott will keep Dallas' playoff hopes alive as he returns from his suspension. This article takes a look back at the impact his absence had.

Elliott was starting to look like the running back who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 2016. Dak Prescott had five touchdown passes in that stretch and was playing turnover-free football. The defense, buoyed by the return of Sean Lee from a hamstring strain, did not allow more than 19 points during the win streak, slowing down a Kansas City Chiefs' offense that was as dynamic as any in the first half of the season.

But when Elliott left, the Cowboys lost their identity. It wasn’t just Elliott’s absence. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed two games with a groin strain. Lee aggravated a hamstring strain on the second series of the first game of Elliott’s absence against the Atlanta Falcons.

They lost three straight games by more than 20 points for the first time since 2004. They failed to score at least 10 points in three straight games for the first time in franchise history.

Dak, Teammates Embrace The Energy Elliott Brings To Field, Locker Room - Rob Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
While his on field presence is certainly valuable, don't underappreciate what else Elliott brings to the mix.

There’s an intangible quality Elliott’s teammates missed during his suspension: the energy he brings to the locker room during this long, demanding, rollercoaster season.

“It’s just great,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “Makes the days go by fast from week to week, being able to move on and stop making it look like a job, but more as football again. He helps out a lot doing that. It’s fun just to have a guy like that in the locker room.”

The 'Absolute Truth' Spoken By Dallas Cowboys Star Ezekiel Elliott After The Cameras Turned Off - Mike Fisher, Cowboys HQ
A lot of the Cowboys beat reporters are rather miffed about how Zeke cut his post practice interview short when all they wanted him to talk about was his six weeks away during his suspension, and he clearly did not. But kudos to Fisher for waiting around to ask what should have come up (Fisher had asked the initial question in the first session, and never got a follow-up then).

"Here's what needs to be asked, and you can certainly choose to answer it or not,'' I said to Elliott -- politely -- as he finished getting dressed for team meetings. "What's your level of conditioning, your level of preparation, for Sunday? Is it normal? Are you ready to carry your usual load, to be the back you usually are?''

Ezekiel Elliott dropped from his fist the metaphorical sword from his hand and dropped from his shoulder the metaphorical chip.

"I am,'' he declared. "All of what you just asked. Yes. Yes. And that's the absolute truth.''

Cowboys playoff hopes could be ruined if NFL flexes Panthers/Falcons to Sunday Night Football - RJ Ochoa, Blogging The Boys
If you really want to understand what needs to happen for the Cowboys to sneak into the playoffs, this article is the one to read. Sadly, it points out the really, really hard part of it all.

Of all the things the Cowboys need, many have dismissed getting help from the Bucs because it seems so impossible. The reality of the situation though is that it is overwhelmingly likely that Tampa Bay is going to need to win one of their final two games because if they lose out, Carolina will likely not play to full force in a game that is likely flexed to Sunday Night Football against the Falcons in Week 17.

Cowboys injury update: David Irving still not practicing, Anthony Hitchens also sits - Dave Halprin, Blogging The Boys
The star running back has returned, but there are other players who may not be able to go in the must-win game against the Seattle Seahawks. Two in particular are worrisome.

Earlier today, we updated the Tyron Smith situation with the news that he has a sprained LCL in his knee and he won’t practice today. It’s possible he may not play this week, and depending on the severity of the injury, could miss additional time.

Also missing from the Wednesday practice will be defensive tackle David Irving. Irving ended up with a concussion in the Washington game, and hasn’t practiced or played since. That’s over two weeks now, which is actually a little bit concerning

Cowboys C Travis Frederick on RG Zack Martin: He's 'probably one of the best that's played the game' - Brandon George, SportsDay
Four years in a row, the same three Cowboys offensive linemen have made the Pro Bowl. Travis Frederick talked about it, and while he was critical of his own play this year, he had nothing but praise for his fellow All Pro linemen.

"When you look at those two, they're at the pinnacle of their positions. Zack Martin is arguably the best guard in football and probably one of the best that's played the game. Tyron Smith goes out on a weekly basis and dominates his opponents even when dealing with injury and you can't tell on Sunday. That's really impressive."

Anthony Brown improving, but still huge liability in crunchtime - Patrik Walker, 247 Sports
Anthony Brown is now being called "Almost Anthony" as he keeps dropping what should be easy interceptions. It is a disappointing thing after his surprising rookie showing.

After delivering 51 total tackles, eight pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble in only 10 starts, it made sense the Cowboys would name him permanent starter coming out of training camp as the rookie class worked to find their NFL wheels. Instead, Brown has now become arguably the team's biggest liability in coverage. To be fair, he's on pace to exceed his numbers from one season ago, but that should be the case considering he's already started nine games this year.

A deep-dive into his film reveals the truer story, as Brown struggles to out-physical receivers as he once did -- one of his best attributes.

Of course, there's also this:

Why Cowboys' survival in Oakland should give you a better appreciation for Jeff Heath, Dallas secondary - Bob Sturm, SportsDay
This week's Marinelli Report takes an in-depth look at the last Raiders drive in that nailbiter game, but the best part is this description of football and how some games are just special.

These games are played for three-plus hours between two teams that don't want to give in to each other. They are often not separated by more than one play here or there. That is the sport and that is why we love it so much. For all of the off-field drama and stories that annoy us, plus the vague manner in which the league draws its on-field rules, it is still the best soap opera any writer could ever conceive. It is two teams of amazing athletes destroying their bodies in the pursuit of a win.

Even if that win does not stand the test of time.

The Cowboys survived Sunday night. They survived because they made one more play. Or maybe just the one play that matters. Or maybe the opponent just made the vital mistake at the wrong moment and the Cowboys were the beneficiaries of that gift.

Choose your own description.

49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t the team’s hero ... the kicker is - Nate Scott,
If you've never read the Gramatica Errors posts about the glory of the men who actually put the foot in football, you have missed out. This week, they have some praise for the gutsy call by Cowboys punter Chris Jones to run it on fourth and 11 from his own 24, keeping a crucial drive alive.

Now we here in the Punt Posse don’t normally condone fakes, as they deny us the chance to see the glorious arc of a ball in flight, but when it comes to the punter calling his own fake? That we can get behind.

The only man who should decide a punt is not to be is the punter man himself.

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