Good things happen when the Cowboys give the ball to Elliott. His re-emergence and the domination by defensive end David Irving helped kill the clock and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Cowboys' 26-20 win that leaves them closer to an NFC East title and a potential first-round bye.
But the Cowboys' 12th win of the season shouldn't have been this hard.
Penalties contributed to missed touchdown opportunities and ultimately two missed field-goal attempts by Dan Bailey. Strange play calls wiped out two more scoring opportunities.
Dak Prescott rebounded with a tidy 32-of-36, 279-yard showing after two less-than-stellar showings. He even added his sixth rushing touchdown, a franchise record for a quarterback. He took the boil out of a potential move at quarterback with his performance as well.
But this game should not have been this close. Not when a quarterback has just four incompletions -- none in the second half -- and Elliott averages 6.9 yards per carry with 159 yards on 23 carries.
Elliott set the team rookie record with his 13th rushing touchdown on a 2-yard run in the second quarter and quickly disappeared from sight by jumping in one of the Salvation Army kettles behind the end zone in celebration. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, his coaches seemed to forget him too.
At least until 6 minutes, 55 seconds remained and he responded with a 42-yard run. But the Cowboys could not stand the prosperity; Elliott was stopped a yard short of a first down four plays later and Dallas had to settle for another field goal.
If the Cowboys want to be playing late into January, the offense cannot afford the mistakes it had Sunday. This team is not built for the defense to carry them, although four more takeaways and clutch play in the fourth quarter (hello, Irving) certainly helped.
It started early with Vince Mayle's holding penalty putting the Cowboys in a second-and-long situation on the opening drive, which turned into a third-and-long after Prescott was sacked. Dan Bailey missed his first of two 50-yard plus field-goal attempts.
On the second drive, a face mask penalty on Doug Free put the Cowboys behind the chains and forced them to settle for a field goal.
With clean drives on their third and fourth possessions, the Cowboys scored touchdowns. Simple.
But another penalty helped contribute to a longer-than-necessary field-goal try by Bailey that was hooked left. In the second half, there was a questionable third-and-2 reverse call in which Elliott's pitch to Lucky Whitehead was dropped. A minus-7-yard jet sweep by Whitehead shut down the seventh drive. Even after taking over at the Tampa Bay 22 with Jeff Heath's interception, the Cowboys could manage only a 2-yard drive that ended in a Bailey field goal with 9:35 to play for a 23-20 lead.
Add in a Jason Witten fumble, the aforementioned stop on third down and a third-down sack of Prescott, and the Cowboys found themselves sweating out a win they didn't need to sweat over. At least not sweat this much.