FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott turned reporters away, and Jason Witten stayed out of the open locker room during the bye week for the Cowboys, presumably to avoid questions about Jerry Jones’ declaration that the owner would bench players over anthem displays.
Football topics aren’t very comfortable for Dallas right now, either.
The Cowboys (2-3) have already matched last year’s loss total from the magical rookie quarterback-running back combo of Prescott, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and Elliott.
Now they’re looking at six games without last season’s NFL rushing leader after a federal appeals court reinstated Elliott’s suspension over domestic violence allegations Thursday.
His legal team figures to pursue another legal angle to block the suspension, but at the moment, Elliott won’t be allowed on the field Oct. 22 at San Francisco.
That’s when all eyes will be on Cowboys players before the game, their first appearance since Jones publicly threatened to punish protesting players after a loss to Green Bay going into the bye.
The few players who did talk Wednesday answered “no comment” to most anthem-related questions a few minutes after a clear-the-air meeting with Jones.
Prescott and Elliott still weren’t talking Thursday — before the court ruling against Elliott — while Witten, the 15th-year tight end and unquestioned leader, was a rare no-show both days when the locker room was open to reporters.
However, Prescott did tell a small group of reporters that the meeting with Jones went well, cleared up any miscommunications and should help the team move forward.
“I think our team has done a really good job in regards to this issue and yesterday’s meetings about Jerry stating his position, I think it was well received,” coach Jason Garrett said when asked if Jones risked dividing the team with his provocative comments.
“I think they understand that he has great respect for them, great love and admiration for them. Yesterday’s meeting was a really productive one for all of us. I do believe we’re united on this.”
The Cowboys have always stood for the national anthem. At Jones’ urging, they joined their owner in kneeling with arms locked before the anthem and standing during the singing with the flag displayed prior to a Monday night game in Arizona.
That was a few days after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players for kneeling during the anthem.
The topic has surfaced again , and at a critical time for the Cowboys, particularly if Elliott’s attorneys can’t get him back on the field. After visiting the last-place 49ers, the defending NFC East champs go to division rival Washington.
Then it’s consecutive games against AFC-leading Kansas City and defending NFC champion Atlanta.
“One of the benefits we have as being the Dallas Cowboys is we always have distractions,” center Travis Frederick said. “That’s just kind of the world we live in, so I feel like this team is good at kind of moving that stuff to the back and thinking about football.”
The offense was starting to come around after a sluggish few weeks, with Prescott and Elliott having their best games in the 35-31 loss to the Packers. Now the question will be who replaces Elliott if the suspension sticks.
Darren McFadden figured to be that guy before the season, but he’s been inactive all five weeks in favor of Alfred Morris. McFadden still could take the lead role because he was the Cowboys’ leading rusher in 2015 and fourth in the NFL, even though he mostly sat for five weeks.
“We’re getting to where we want to be,” Prescott said after the Packers game. “We have a high standard on the offensive side of the ball.”
The Cowboys need help on the defensive side, and should be getting it with the return of All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee.
He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury, and Dallas lost both despite scoring at least 30 points and gaining at least 400 yards in both. The rest of the NFL has just two such losses this season.
After Prescott ran for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:13 remaining against Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers needed just 52 seconds to take the Packers the other way for the winning score.
“We don’t finger-point in this locker room,” Elliott said. “We’re a family. When we’re down, they’re going to pick us up. When they’re down, it’s our job to pick them up.”
If Elliott is down for six weeks, the Cowboys will be challenged to avoid a lost season similar to 2015, the last time they were defending NFC East champs.
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