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Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, Texas — Running back Ezekiel Elliott returned Sunday, but the Dallas Cowboys’ season ended anyway.

The Cowboys lost to the Seattle Seahawks 21-12, bringing to a close any playoff possibilities with their Week 17 finale against the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday left to play.

“It’s really disappointing,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We had a chance and fought there at the end. It’s not overly complicated. Opportunities in this league are fleeting. You have to take advantage of them when you can. We just weren’t able to do that well enough.”

Sunday started well enough for the Cowboys, with the Detroit Lions losing to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons losing to the New Orleans Saints. It could have been made even better if not for the Carolina Panthers’ last-minute victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But all of it meant nothing because the Dallas offense failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time this season. Quarterback Dak Prescott was intercepted twice and saw a pick returned for a touchdown for the fourth time this season when Justin Coleman came away with an errant dump-off to Elliott on the Cowboys’ second play of the second half.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant, meanwhile, had perhaps his lowest moment with the Cowboys (8-7), dropping a first-quarter pass, fumbling a second-quarter reception and dropping a third-quarter dump-down.

Bryant’s fumble was turned into Seattle’s first touchdown, and his drop in the third quarter led to the Seahawks’ third. In the first half, two special-teams penalties negated great field position, and a Geoff Swaim crackback penalty turned a third-and-2 into third-and-15, forcing the Cowboys to take a Dan Bailey field goal.

The Cowboys did what they wanted to do running the ball. Elliott finished with 97 yards on 24 carries in his first game since Nov. 5 because of a six-game suspension.

But they have only themselves to blame for not going to him more.

Dallas’ most egregious error came in the fourth quarter. Trailing by 9 points, the Cowboys were at the Seattle 3 with less than eight minutes to play. With the entire AT&T Stadium crowd crying for an Elliott handoff, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan instead called a pass that resulted in Prescott scrambling for 1 yard. On second-and-goal, Linehan called for Prescott to sprint out to the right, eschewing Elliott once again, and Witten was called for holding.

Prescott was sacked for an 11-yard loss on the next snap, and the Cowboys were ultimately forced to settle for another Bailey field-goal attempt from 34 yards. For the first time since 2014, Bailey missed between 30-39 yards when he pushed his kick right.

Elliott’s seven rushing touchdowns were good enough to be tied for fifth in the NFL entering Week 16, despite missing six games. He had 15 rushing touchdowns as a rookie in 2016.

But Linehan failed to go to him when it mattered most.

After the game, Jason Garrett said Prescott had a run/pass option on first down and chose to go with the pass based on Seattle’s defense. “When you look back on those plays and they don’t work out, it’s very easy to do that,” Garrett said of the second-guessing. “Again, I think we are one of the better red zone teams in the league. Running the ball has been a part of it, the run/pass options have been a part of it and then throwing the ball. In that particular case, it didn’t work out well for us. … Obviously, Zeke is a very good player. We like him and we give him plenty of opportunities. In that particular case, it didn’t work out for us and that was a big part of the game.”

Elliott did not second-guess the playcalling. “They coach and I play,” he said.

That missed opportunity effectively ended the Cowboys’ chances of making the playoffs and ended their season, although Bailey missed another attempt with a minute to play that would have cut Seattle’s lead to 6 points.

There is one game left to play, but the ramifications will be for jobs on this team or another for players and coaches in 2018.

The Cowboys can look back at the Seattle loss as a crusher, but their season was put in a bind with Elliott’s suspension. The team’s losing streak in the first three games without their star running back effectively ended it. Sunday just made it final.

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys

Two games deep into the second half of the season, it’s easy to pinpoint why the Cowboys playoff hopes are crumbling.

It has to do with their performance in the second half of games.

Appreciate the symmetry? The Cowboys don’t. The team’s inability to finish this fight, as they like to plaster on T-shirts and workout gear, has put them in a precarious position entering their Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Defense of their NFC East title has essentially been conceded as they lag four games behind Philadelphia with six to play. They are on the outside looking in at the Wild Card race with four conference losses putting them in a bind when it comes to potential tie breakers.

The recent fade mirrors the Cowboys troubles in the second half. Philadelphia delivered the exclamation point with 30 unanswered points Sunday night, leading Eagles running back Jay Ajayi to declare “we kind of had our way with them” and suggest the Cowboys quit.

Two games deep into the second half of the season, it’s easy to pinpoint why the Cowboys playoff hopes are crumbling.

It has to do with their performance in the second half of games.

Appreciate the symmetry? The Cowboys don’t. The team’s inability to finish this fight, as they like to plaster on T-shirts and workout gear, has put them in a precarious position entering their Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Defense of their NFC East title has essentially been conceded as they lag four games behind Philadelphia with six to play. They are on the outside looking in at the Wild Card race with four conference losses putting them in a bind when it comes to potential tie breakers.

The recent fade mirrors the Cowboys troubles in the second half. Philadelphia delivered the exclamation point with 30 unanswered points Sunday night, leading Eagles running back Jay Ajayi to declare “we kind of had our way with them” and suggest the Cowboys quit.

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FRISCO, Texas — Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed a complaint against the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday, alleging owner and general manager Jerry Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening players if they choose not to stand for the national anthem.

Jones said earlier this week if a player “disrespects the flag” and national anthem by not standing, then the player will not play.

According to the filing to the National Labor Relations Board, “the employer, evidenced by repeated public statements, is attempting to threaten, coerce and intimidate all Dallas Cowboys players on the roster in order to prevent them from exercising concerted activity protected under the act by saying that he will fire any players involved in such concerted activity.”

Jones has said players will not play, not that they would be fired, if they do not stand for the anthem, but Wade Rathke, Local 100s chief organizer, said that is a “distinction without difference when it comes to the law.”

The Cowboys will not comment on the filing, according to a spokesman. The NFL has declined to comment.

“You can’t discipline somebody for something that is a right they have under the law, whether that discipline be termination or benching or giving a slap on the wrist or writing up in their files they’ve been a bad boy,” Rathke said. “That’s just not what they can do when it comes to concerted activities. I know in the modern age people think workers shouldn’t have rights, but they still do. This union was offended by those comments. Mr. Jones just got carried away being a rich guy and there’s no laws he has to respect.”

According to Rathke, the NLRB will assign a field agent to investigate the claim and if there is a determination that there is a violation of the act it will go to trial if no settlement is reached.

“I’m hoping this doesn’t go to hell and back on the labor board,” Rathke said. “I think Mr. Jones should just say, ‘I stepped out of line.’ Fine. … We’re not looking for blood.”

According to the NFL’s game manual, players are not required to stand for the anthem; however, it is written that they “should” stand at attention.

On Tuesday, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams expressing a belief that “everyone should stand for the national anthem” and that the dispute surrounding the issue is “threatening to erode the unifying power of our game.” He spoke of a plan that will be reviewed with the teams at next week’s league meeting, which would “include such elements as an in-season platform to promote the work of our players on these core issues.”

President Donald Trump has called on NFL owners since last month to fire players who do not stand for the anthem, saying their protest “disrespects the flag” and the country.

Before their Sept. 25 game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys players, coaches and staff, including Jones, stood locked arm in arm and took a knee before the anthem. During the anthem, they stood arm in arm. In the past two games, the Cowboys have stood on the sideline as they had before President Trump’s initial comments.

Defensive linemen Damontre Moore and David Irving raised their fists at the end of the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. They told Cowboys coach Jason Garrett that they did so “well after” the anthem, and the coach said they would not be disciplined.

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, Jones left open the opportunity for a player to have a form of silent protest before the anthem — similar to the way the Cowboys handled the situation before the anthem in Arizona as a team — or after the anthem.

“If we’re going to have any other recognition the place to have it is before the anthem in my view and be real clear that it’s not associated with the anthem,” Jones said. “I think it’s real important for our players that they have that to reply to anybody whether they’re asking them to express themselves or not that the way we do it where I work, where I earn my livelihood, is that we stand for the flag.”

When asked if he would really sit a player like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, Jones initially deferred.

“The policy and my actions are going to be that if you’re not honoring, standing for the flag in a way that a lot of our fans feel that you should, if that’s not the case, then you won’t play,” Jones said, noting that his stance is “nothing new.” He added, “As far as whether or not I will basically institute or basically do what I said, I just would say that the implication that we’re not respecting the flag … is just not going to be accepted and so I would just ask anybody to look at my record relative to what I say I’m going to do and you go from there.”