The Dallas Cowboys’ domination of the New York Giants on Sunday night in front of a crowd of 93,183 at AT&T Stadium was slow, methodical and complete.
It wasn’t the unleashing of pent-up emotions following an off-season of turmoil, chaos and distractions due to star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s on-going saga with the NFL.
The Cowboys found out this week that Elliott would not only play in the opener but likely all season after a Texas judge granted a temporary injunction, blocking the six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy until it’s decided in court.
Elliott has endured a year-long investigation into domestic violence charges of a former girlfriend, a suspension, a failed appeal and a federal court hearing.
He maintains his innocence and said the toughest part is having his name associated with domestic violence.
Playing football is the easy part.
“It just feels good to be out here,” Elliott said in his first public comments since minicamp in June. “It’s definitely been a tough last 14 months and at times it’s gotten so hard you start to lose faith. But just being able to come in and be with these boys every day has kept me focused and made me not give up. I keep going.”
Elliott and the Cowboys approached the situation with workman-like focus during training camp and the preseason and used a similar approach to wear out the Giants in 19-3 victory in the season opener.
The Giants played without their best player, receiver Odell Beckham Jr, who remained sidelined with a preseason ankle injury, but this was also a story of a Cowboys team ready to embark on a mission they hope ends with a Super conclusion.
“I think every person that was part of our organization was uplifted by the decision [to allow Elliott to play moving forward],” owner Jerry Jones said. “It was a good one. Although he was playing this game no matter what, the idea that he we could have him potentially all year is inspirational.”
This was a Giants team that beat the 13-3 Cowboys twice last season and had won three consecutive games in the series.
But it’s the Cowboys who open the season 1-0 as they allowed the fewest points since a 17-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.
The Cowboys got started on the victory Friday when the found out Elliott would be on the field Sunday and likely all season.
Elliott had 24 carries for 104 and five catches for 36 yards.
He had seven 100-yard games a year ago when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards.
Quarterback Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect, but he played mistake-free, completing 24-of-39 for 268 yards and a touchdown to tight end Jason Witten, while earning his 14th win in 17 regular season starts dating back to his impressive rookie campaign of a year ago.
Prescott also rushed three times for 24 years, including two key scrambles for first downs to help move the chains.
Even more impressive was a dominating performance by the team’s maligned but feisty defense.
Quarterback Eli Manning passed for 211 yards on 38 attempts under constant pressure from a defense that recorded three sacks before cornerback Anthony Brown recorded a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter.
The defense played without suspended ends David Irving and Damontre Moore and injured middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens. It then lost cornerback Orlando Scandrick in the first half.
“We did a lot of good things on offense,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage and controlling the game for the most part. Defensively, it’s hard to keep a team out of the end zone, holding them to three points in this league. I thought time and time again, they came up and made the big play, affecting the quarterback.”
The methodical domination by the Cowboys started in the first half.
They led 16-0 at halftime and beat the Giants in yardage (265-49), first downs (16-2) and time of possession (20:33-9:27).
The Cowboys could have been up by more if not for some questionable play-calling at the goal line that resulted in the first field goal by Dan Bailey.
A first-and-goal at the 3 became fourth-and-goal at the 3 after three consecutive passes to Dez Bryant. Elliott didn’t get one opportunity to run it.
Prescott said the Cowboys were trying to be aggressive in the passing game and took the blame for missing a wide-open Brown on slant in the end zone.
“There were a lot of pass plays called- some were good and some weren’t, and I put that on me,” Prescott said. “We’ll get better, and like I said, it was a good defense.I just let a couple of them get away from me. Threw a couple of them harder than I had to, specifically those two red zone throws I missed. There is no excuse for them, really.”
The Cowboys were forced to settle for a second field goal and a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter because of a holding penalty on right tackle La’el Collins and a sack of Prescott.
Bailey was good from 48 yards out.
Yet, the Cowboys were able to move the ball against a Giants defense they couldn’t crack a year ago.
The dam broke for the Cowboys with 1:41 left in the second quarter when Prescott hit Witten with a perfect strike for a 12-yard score, capping a 65-yard drive.
After a quick three-and-out, Prescott displayed his maturity on a confident 51-yard drive in 1:14 to set up a 42-yard Bailey field goal with 5 seconds to go.
Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence led the way on defense with two sacks and two quarterback hits.
The Giants opened the third quarter with a field goal, but credit a sack by defensive end Charles Tapper for keeping them out of the end zone.
The Giants never threatened again, and while the Cowboys would muster only a field goal late in the fourth quarter, the game was never in doubt.
Again credit the defense even when things didn’t always according to plan.
A roughing the passer penalty on defensive tackle Maliek Collins gave the Giants new life after a third down incompletion early in the fourth quarter.
But linebacker Sean Lee stuffed a run for a two-yard loss, then forced an incompletion. A frazzled Manning followed with another incompletion on third down, leading to a Giants punt.
The next Giants drive began with a 31-yard pass only to ended by Brown interception of Manning on the next play. Brown jumped in front of receiver Roger Lewis and hung on as he wrestled him for the ball.
“It was in a zone coverage and I just kind of read Eli’s eyes,” Brown said. “As I’m catching the ball I didn’t expect him to be as close as he was and he kind of tried to pull it away from me. But I wasn’t letting that go so we were going to fight. We’d be out there right now still fighting if we could. So I wasn’t letting that go.”
A Cowboys defense that was criticized for its inability to get to the quarterback or force turnovers proved to be the story of the game, outside of Elliott’s return.
“Turnovers, that’s what we enforce,” Brown said. “Turnovers, sacks. Rush and cover goes together. We are just happy for the win. We’re just looking forward to Denver next week.”
The Cowboys play at the Broncos next Sunday as they hope to move to 2-0.
For Elliott, it’s another opportunity for focus on football and put the battle the with the NFL on hold. He is expected to be available for the rest of the season but nothing is certain and with more legal maneuvering on the horizon.
“It is what it is. I’ve kind of just stopped worrying about it because it’s really out of my hands at this point,” Elliott said. “I’m just really focused right now at being the running back I need to be for this team to be success so we can accomplish what we want to. Just the main focus and keep playing at a high level.
“You just have to block it out. You just have to focus on being the guy I need to be for this team. Being a high-energy guy. I think I do bring a lot of energy to this team. I think I am good for this locker room. And I just continue to remain myself and not let it weigh on me and wear me down. Just kind of put it aside and be me.”