ARLINGTON, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott’s workload in the opener didn’t matter much after the Dallas Cowboys running back missed the entire preseason in a holdout.
Now there are more questions about how soon quarterback Dak Prescott will get the big payday his backfield mate enjoyed just four days before the season started.
Prescott tied his career high with four touchdown passes while throwing for 405 yards, and the Cowboys rolled up 494 yards under new play-caller Kellen Moore in a 35-17 win over Eli Manning and the New York Giants on Sunday.
Saquon Barkley ran 59 yards on his first carry of the season , setting up Eli Manning’s touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. But the Giants simply couldn’t keep up with a Dallas offense anxious to see what could happen at full strength.
As expected, Elliott didn’t seem to be in peak form after spending almost all of training camp trying to stay in shape in Mexico while waiting for the $90 million, six-year contract extension that was settled on the morning of the first full workout of the regular season.
The two-time NFL rushing champion did find a seam for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Cowboys up 35-10 late in the third quarter. Elliott finished with 53 yards on 13 carries.
“We wanted to be mindful of how many reps we gave him in the game,” said coach Jason Garrett, noting he thought it was more than 30, including one catch for 10 yards. “I think now over time, he’ll practice a little more, get a little more game experience, he’ll get more and more comfortable.”
This going-away win was all about Prescott in his second career 400-yard game, in the first game of his fourth season.
Prescott’s representatives and the Cowboys were still trying to reach a deal on a new contract in the days before the opener, but now the issue will linger into the season. Perhaps the NFL’s best bargain ($2 million salary in the final year of his rookie deal) isn’t getting any less expensive.
The 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year thrived in his debut in Moore’s offense, making several perfect throws on his way to a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Prescott completed 25 of 32 passes without an interception, finding seven different receivers while two of them had 100-yard days: Michael Gallup (seven catches for 158 yards) and Amari Cooper (six for 106).
One of the on-the-money tosses was a 21-yard touchdown to Cooper, who’s in his first full season with Dallas after a midseason trade that boosted a stagnant offense and helped send the Cowboys to their second NFC East title in three seasons with Prescott and Elliott.
Prescott babied a throw to Blake Jarwin because the tight end was so open over the middle on a 28-yard score that was Jarwin’s fourth touchdown in two games against the Giants. The other three were in last year’s finale at the Giants, also Prescott’s other four-TD game.
Jason Witten — back for a club-record 16th season for Dallas (Manning reached the exact same milestone with the Giants) after a year in retirement as a broadcaster — scored his 69th career touchdown on a 4-yard grab.
The career high-tying TD pass for Prescott was to the newcomer among his receivers, Randall Cobb, who was wide open over the middle on the
A multitude of offseason changes on defense didn’t help the Giants, last in the NFC East in 2018. After taking the early lead on Manning’s 1-yard toss to Evan Engram, they gave up TD drives of 75, 93, 83, 75 and 89 yards on five consecutive possessions from the first through third quarters.
Barkley ended up with 120 yards on 11 carries after the huge opening run along with four catches for 19 yards. But most of those yards didn’t matter much because the Giants couldn’t get the Cowboys off the field in the first half until the outcome had been decided. Engram had 10 catches for 110 yards. New York ended up with 470 yards.
Daniel Jones, the sixth overall choice in the draft, made his NFL debut in the final two minutes. Jones had a strong preseason after facing criticism when the Giants made the surprising pick. The heir apparent to the 38-year-old Manning was 3 of 4 for 17 yards.
Giants: Home opener against Buffalo next Sunday.
Cowboys: At Washington next Sunday.