Ezekiel Elliott walks off the field after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Cowboys on Sunday, knocking Dallas from the playoffs. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Reporter

So much for Ezekiel Elliott’s return.

So much for the Dallas Cowboys’ season.

The Cowboys had Elliott back in the lineup Sunday. They still had playoff hopes, however slim. There still was a chance for them to save a season that had veered so badly off course after beginning with absolutely legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

But it all ended in about the most frustrating fashion imaginable for the Cowboys, with mistakes on offense and wayward field goal attempts by usually reliable kicker Dan Bailey. The Cowboys lost, 21-12, at home to the Seattle Seahawks and were eliminated from NFC playoff contention.

It marked the second straight week that a major NFL star returned to his team’s lineup with a chance to lead a late push into the NFC’s postseason field. But just as the Green Bay Packers lost in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s return from a broken collarbone, the Cowboys lost in Elliott’s return. The Cowboys, like the Packers, have been reduced to spectator status for the playoffs.

Elliott was productive Sunday, running for 97 yards on 24 carries in his first game since Nov. 5. He rejoined the Cowboys last week after serving his six-game suspension and appeared not to have missed a step, getting more than half his rushing yards in the first quarter.

But the Cowboys had other problems on offense. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Wide receiver Dez Bryant lost a fumble and had a pass from Prescott deflect off his hands for one of the interceptions. The Cowboys never reached the end zone, and basically handed away the game. The Seahawks posted only 136 yards of total offense and amassed 142 penalty yards. According to Fox, that made them the first team since the Philadelphia Eagles in 1966 to win a game with more penalty yards than total yards of offense.

The Cowboys had one particularly calamitous sequence on offense late in the game in which they managed a first down at the Seattle 3-yard line, then unraveled. Prescott ran for one yard on a first-down keeper. But tight end Jason Witten was penalized for holding on a second-down incompletion. Prescott was then sacked, and Bailey eventually pushed a 34-yard field goal try wide right. Elliott, Dallas’s best player, never touched the football during that series of downs which, in effect, ended their season.

Bailey, usually about as good as there is in the league, also missed a 48-yarder with a minute to play.

So the Seahawks retain postseason hopes for another week, and the Cowboys don’t. This was supposed to be The Year for the Cowboys, with Prescott and Elliott in their second NFL season after carrying the team to the No. 1 seed in last season’s NFC playoffs. Last season ended bitterly with a near miss defeat at home to the Packers in a conference semifinal, thanks to Rodgers’s late-game wizardry. But more was expected this season.

Instead, the Cowboys are left with failure and exasperation. Elliott was suspended, a penalty which the NFL Players Association managed to keep on hold for half-a-season via courtroom maneuvering before the league finally prevailed. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, in the view of some fellow owners, took out his anger on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league with what amounted to a temper tantrum in his failed bid to block Goodell’s five-year contract extension.

Elliott was suspended.

Goodell got his extension.

The Cowboys missed the playoffs.

Nothing went as planned this season in Dallas.

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