This Sunday, Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott will return to Dallas, a place where he spent seven seasons and rushed for over 8,000 yards as a member of the Cowboys. Elliott took the league by storm as a rookie in 2016 after being selected fourth overall, rushing for 1,600 yards, and scoring 16 rushing touchdowns while making First Team AP All-Pro and coming in third in league MVP voting.
Elliott led the league in rushing in two of his first three seasons but saw his role decrease in recent years, leading to his release and a foray into free agency this summer that ended when he signed with the Patriots in mid-August just as they headed to Green Bay for joint practices with the Packers.
The first two weeks were a quiet start for Elliott, with just 42 rushing yards on 12 attempts, somewhat to be expected after the back missed nearly all of training camp. But against the Jets Elliott had a bit of a breakout performance, posting 80 yards on 16 carries, including three rushes over 10 yards.
"Zeke's done a good job for us," said Bill Belichick following the team's first win of the season last Sunday. "I think we're getting a little bit of a feel for some of the things with him and vice versa. I thought he had a couple of real good runs today. We'll look at the film and look a little more carefully, but I thought he did a nice job, he got his pads down. Got some tough yards. His vision was good on a couple of cut-back plays."
Now, with a solid performance under his belt, Elliott is preparing to take on his former team hoping to provide another spark for the Patriots that could even their season record at 2-2 with an upset victory. Getting that victory was atop Elliott's mind as he spoke with the media on Wednesday afternoon.
"I'm focused on going to win a football game," said Elliott. "It's cool going back to Dallas. I spent a lot of time there. A lot of great times there. But you've got to keep the main thing the main thing and that's going out there, getting better as a team and getting another win."
This week the Cowboys hinted that they planned on doing some kind of pregame presentation to honor their former running back, but that attention will do little to shake Elliott from his and the Patriots primary focus.
"I'm very appreciative of the time I spent in Dallas, I'm very thankful for Mr. Jones and the Jones family drafting me and giving me an opportunity," said Elliott. "But once again, I'm focused on going and getting a win."
The big back was willing to acknowledge it will good to see quarterback Dak Prescott.
"We haven't talked yet, but it'll be good to see him," said Elliott. "We got drafted together and spent so much time together, became my best friend. So it'll definitely be good to see him, but we're going there to win though."
The key to getting that win will be building on the positives that came out of the win over the Jets. The Patriots defense was stifling and the rushing attack finally broke 100 yards. It's an intriguing combination if it can translate to Week 4, especially considering how the Cowboys fell for the first time last weekend to the Cardinals.
Elliott credited the continuity along the offensive line as one of the big reasons why the Pats offense made strides.
"I think we've got some momentum up front," said Elliott. "We kind of had to shuffle some guys around on the O-line, kind of getting the group in there and getting the ball rolling. Not coming out and getting behind and being able to actually get more and more running attempts because it's obviously going to be tough to get good run attempts at the beginning of the game when everyone's fresh, but as you get running attempt after running attempt you tire down the defense and then those three-fours turn into five-sixes and bigger than that."
There's still a handful of days to go before kickoff and plenty of time for the hype to build. But as of Wednesday afternoon, Elliott was keeping an even keel and approaching this game like he has every other one.
"Not gonna make it bigger than what it is," said Elliott. "I wanna go out there play Patriot football, I wanna go out there get better, we want to get a win. It's just the next stop on our 17-game journey."