The easy motivation for Alfred Morris on Thursday would have been simple redemption against his former team.
But it was not about that for the Dallas Cowboys running back, who was rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown in a 38-14 victory against the Washington Redskins.
It was about giving it all for his current teammates in need of a lift after losing three consecutive games by a combined score of 92-22.
“I came with the mindset today to just lay it down,” said Morris. “I was reading John 14 before I came in and it said no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I came with the mindset today I was going to lay my life down for my teammates. They allowed me to get going and I was able to help my team win.”
Morris was able to help the Cowboys win by providing their strongest rushing attack in the three weeks since 2016 NFL rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott began a six-game suspension.
The Cowboys lost all three games and were teetering on dropping out of playoff contention.
But the win and Morris’ performance have given them renewed hope.
It was not only Morris’ first 100-yard game since joining the Cowboys in 2016, but also his first since the final game of the 2015 season against the Cowboys when he was a member of the Redskins. He was his most rushing yards since gaining 139 in November of 2013.
“It’s like a weight lifted off of us,” Morris said. “I didn’t do anything special. You can give the credit to the offensive line and the play-calling as long as Jesus gets the glory. I’m just super thankful for this opportunity. I mean it’s only one game. We still have a lot more games to go to do what we want to do, get in the postseason.”
The Cowboys still have work to do to get back in the playoff chase but they have a real opportunity, thanks to Morris.
He helped the Cowboys control the ball and wear down the Redskins defense in the second half.
“I will tell you he has a knack and the way we block it and the way we lean on him, in other words start making it real tiring out there,” owner Jerry Jones said. “It’s important when you’re in a battle it’s important that your opponent gets tired, too. You could end up with a fresh guy … well our guys leaned on him good. Alfred runs good, especially some of those zone blocking plays, really has an uncanny knack of seeing the soft spot and you saw it here tonight.”
It’s been quite the rise for Morris, who began the season behind Elliott, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith and in danger of being cut in training camp.
But he worked his way to become Elliott’s primary backup by the start the season. And since Elliott was suspended, Morris has been the primary ball carrier.
The numbers didn’t always look great but the Cowboys liked the way he ran in the past three games and it all came together Thursday against his former team.
“I thought Alfred played great,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We want to be persistent running the football. They have a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage, but Scott Linehan and Frank Pollack did a good job finding runs for us. Guys coming off the line of scrimmage up front were outstanding. Obviously, Alfred was outstanding. He’s got a great feel and instinct for running the football.
“He makes a lot of runs that people don’t really recognize how good they are. Little subtle runs, 4-, 5-, 6-yard runs where he’s finding the crease, finding the soft spot and moving forward. And he was able to do that throughout the ballgame.”