On Dak Prescott‘s two interceptions, Elliott did not attempt to track down Broncos cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. On the Harris interception, which came after Dez Bryant could not hold on to a Prescott pass, television replays showed Elliott standing with his hands on his hips as Harris turned up field.
On Talib’s 103-yard return for a touchdown with 53 seconds to play, Elliott dove at a Denver blitzer to protect Prescott, but he was not seen in the television replays in the chase.
“One of the things we preach to our team on both sides of the ball when there is a turnover is everybody’s involved,” Garrett said. “If you’re an offensive player, you become a defensive player on a fumble or an interception. Zeke is one of the most natural competitors that I’ve ever been around. He loves to play. He loves to practice. I think we’ve seen that through his first year playing, and those two plays are not indicative of the kind of competitor that he is, and we have to get [that] addressed.”
Elliott finished with a career-low 8 yards on nine carries as the Broncos bottled up the Cowboys’ running game and forced Dallas to rely on the passing game.
Garrett said frustration could have been a reason for Elliott’s lack of effort, but that was not an excuse.
“Obviously, he had been very productive as a running back over the course of his career and certainly in the NFL up to this point,” Garrett said, “and he had a game where he carried the ball nine times for 8 yards, so there’s no question frustration could have set in.”
On NFL Network after the game, Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson said Elliott “quit on his team,” but he pointed more to Elliott’s sideline demeanor than his effort on the interceptions.
“Clearly, he didn’t have any communication with his teammates,” Tomlinson said. “But also, he didn’t want to talk to his teammates. Sometimes when things are going wrong, as a leader of that team, as a captain, you have to step up and rally the troops. You have to go to the offensive line and say, ‘I know it’s tough, but let’s keep battling, let’s keep fighting.’ You have to go to the quarterback and say, ‘Hey, man, I’m not getting it done today. You have to step it up.’ You have to rally the troops. … They need him to do that because last year, he led the league in rushing. So everybody is looking at him as the top dog. So if you want to be the top dog, you have to do it on and off the field.”
When asked about Tomlinson’s accusation, Garrett said, “I just think it’s important to be specific about the plays. You evaluate the play. Those particular plays, it was not up to our standard.”
“I think different guys get ready to play in different ways,” Garrett said, “and in a game when things aren’t going well, sometimes guys look inward and focus on what they need to do to get themselves ready for their next opportunity.”