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The Cowboys' 'Other' Comeback: Zeke is Back

While Dak Prescott has overcome his much-publicized physical injury, running back Ezekiel Elliott has seemingly exorcized his fumbling demons

Dak Prescott's physical comeback is the story of the NFL season. A year after a gruesome ankle injury, he's playing at a high level that has him the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year and also a legitimate candidate for Most Valuable Player.

But just as crucial to the Dallas Cowboys' 4-1 start and record-setting offense might be another regeneration - Ezekiel Elliott's mental comeback.

In the offseason, Elliott lost weight. In five games, he hasn't lost the football.

A leaner, quicker, faster - happier - Cowboys' star running back is third in the NFL with 452 yards. His 25 first downs and five touchdowns are behind only the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry.

But Elliott's most important stat is a goose egg: 94 touches, 0 fumbles.

Over 85 hand-offs, nine catches (on 11 targets) and even a tricky option pitch to teammate Tony Pollard to help seal the win over the Carolina Panthers, Elliott is yet to mishandle the ball.

He was again flawless - and ferocious - in rushing for 110 yards and scoring twice in last Sunday's 44-20 romp over the New York Giants.

For a player one year ago was dealing with the fumbling yips - and the injury loss of his good friend, Prescott - his enhanced ball security and return to form is one of the Cowboys' many feel-good narratives in 2021.

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In the wake of Prescott's departure last October, Elliott's mood nosedived with his production. In Dallas' first game without its quarterback, the running back fumbled on consecutive touches to light the match of an embarrassing 38-10 torching by the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football. Elliott fumbled four times in the first six games, and six times during the season.

"Last year sucked," Elliott said in a Fox interview that aired before the Giants game. "I put a lot of last year behind me. Like I don't even remember it."

Over the Summer Elliott committed to holding onto the ball, even publicly addressing his problem during training camp in Oxnard, Calif.

"Number one, fumbling the ball," said Elliott, who attributed some of his fumbles to a wrist injury. "I've never been a fumbler. When you carry the ball, you kind of carry the whole hope of the whole team, organization and fan base. If you cough it up and give it to the other team, you're letting everyone down so I mean that's the No. 1 thing that's my focus this year is protecting the ball."

So far, so great.

Despite sharing duties with Pollard (eighth in the league with 325 yards on 51 carries), Elliott looks as good as he has since winning NFL rushing titles in 2016 and 2018. Or, is it because of the lighter workload?

Elliott is noticeably more fit. He's faster, evidenced by a 47-yard run against the Panthers. He's running harder, tougher. (With, by the way, fewer signature "Feed Me" celebrations after routine first downs.) His 5.3 yards-per-carry are the highest of his career. And he appears to be having more fun than ever, even playfully high-stepping into the end zone after catching a four-yard flip from Prescott against the Giants.

Dak is back. Quietly, so is Zeke.