Much has been made of the Dallas Cowboys’ last-play meltdown in their 19-12 loss Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC division round game. And much has been made of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s less-than-stellar play once again on a big stage. But not enough has been made about a horrific injury suffered by Dallas running back Tony Pollard just before halftime.
Pollard was hurt on a tackle that looked eerily similar to the tackle that left Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes with a high ankle sprain the previous day during an AFC division round game. Pollard’s left leg was caught underneath him as he was being hauled down after catching a pass. He was taken off the field on a cart and later diagnosed with a high-ankle sprain and fractured left fibula that will require surgery.
After being down 9-6 at halftime, the Cowboys scored just six points in the second half on a pair of field goals by maligned kicker Brett Maher. Pollard, a Memphis, Tenn., native who played college football at Memphis, finished the game with 33 yards from scrimmage on six carries and two pass receptions. His rushing and pass-catching skills were certainly missed by the Cowboys in the second half.
Best in the NFL
Pollard had a breakout season in his fourth year in the NFL after being taken by Dallas in the fourth round of the 2019 draft. He impressed while Prescott regressed and he was named to the Pro Bowl. Pollard averaged 5.9 yards each time he touched the ball on a play from scrimmage during the regular season, the most of any running back in the NFL who had at least 100 touches.
He was exciting to watch. He had a 57-yard run for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 5. Against Chicago in Week 8, he ran for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Two weeks later, he ran for 80 yards and he had six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings and he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
He ran for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and he had 33 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns in 16 regular-season games. He was reliable once again. He’s fumbled the ball just three times and lost a fumble just once in his NFL career. That lost fumble was during his rookie season.
In Better Than Out
Going into Sunday’s game against the 49ers, the Cowboys were averaging 5.8 yards per play with Pollard on the field and 5.1 yards per play with Pollard hanging out on the sidelines. To put that into perspective, if those numbers represented teams, it would be the difference between the No. 7 and No. 24 best offenses in the NFL.
Pollard was the Cowboys’ star running back this season, not Ezekiel Elliott, who had the worst year of his NFL career (he averaged 3.8 yards per carry). Elliott appropriately ended the season flat on his back after being bowled over by San Francisco linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair while acting as a long snapper on the Cowboys’ ridiculously unsuccessful attempt at a miracle final play. “That obviously wasn’t the plan,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said in what could be the understatement of the NFL season.
With Pollard’s emergence this season, Elliott could be done with the Cowboys. Elliott has been going backwards since he signed a six-year, $90 million contract with Dallas in 2019. Next season is the last one on the deal. If the Cowboys keep Elliott, they’ll need to dish out $16.72 million. If they cut him, they’ll be on the hook for $11.86 million in their salary cap.
If Pollard is healthy, he should be the Cowboys’ featured running back next season. A new era could be coming to Dallas.
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