Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott returns Monday and will be the star of The Star, back at the team's headquarters north of Dallas after his six-game suspension to meet with team owner Jerry Jones at 10 a.m. CT.
Thanks to a fake punt, paper-width first down and timely touchback in Sunday night's wild 20-17 win over the Raiders, the Cowboys remain alive in the playoff picture — and Elliott's teammates, as well as fans and the media, are looking for him to jump in and contribute.
"We get an extreme boost because that's our guy," wide receiver Dez Bryant said (via ESPN.com). "That's our horse. He gives us that extra boost of joy because of his personality and who he is. He gets guys going with his attitude and his passion and love for the game. Just seeing him back will make us play that much harder."
QB Dak Prescott said merely that he has missed his best friend.
I’ll take it from here pic.twitter.com/Bdpv2vyS6i— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 18, 2017
An early irony: While Elliott will be at The Star on Monday, other players will be off. They'll return to work Tuesday, and Elliott's first practice will be Wednesday as the Cowboys begin preparation for a Christmas Eve home game against the spiraling Seahawks.
"We're excited about Zeke," Jones said. "I'm excited to have him back at The Star. … It's been a rough year for Zeke, and he'll be the first to say that he knows his fans have had an up-and-down [time] with him here, and now we're back together again. Maybe we'll get a chance to really do something special, maybe we'll get in the playoffs."
Elliott rushed for 783 yards and seven touchdowns while adding 19 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns before his suspension. The Cowboys went 3-3 in his absence, the three losses being blowouts — though they've rebounded to win three straight.
"He's a great football player," coach Jason Garrett said of Elliott (via The Dallas Morning News). "Obviously had a big impact on our football team in the times he's been with us. But a real credit to Alfred Morris and to Rod Smith for playing as well as they have in his absence. Any time you have a player of Zeke's caliber back in the lineup, he's going to help. He's going to take some pressure off everybody else. He's just that kind of player and he's been that kind of player for us. There'll still be a role for Alfred. There'll still be a role for Rod. But we'll certainly embrace Zeke being back."
NFL Network reported first that Elliott would spend his suspension training in Mexico, and NBC had photos Sunday that appeared to show a more-chiseled Elliott working out there. In fact, Elliott reportedly will release a documentary of how he spent his 38-day suspension.
The film might be enlightening, but what happens beginning Monday morning will define the Cowboys' 2017 season. And both he and his teammates appear eager to see how things go.
"I texted Zeke last week to talk to him, he's in great spirits," Bryant said. "The passion he brings each and every day is crazy. He get us juiced. And to have him back, I know he's licking his chops right now. I seen a couple [pictures]. He ready."