The Dallas Cowboys were forced to desperate measures at the end of Sunday's 19-12 playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
As the final score indicates, those measures didn't pan out. And they spelled an unceremonious end to Ezekiel Elliott's season in what could be his final game in a Cowboys uniform.
Facing third-and-10 at their own 24-yard line with six seconds remaining, the Cowboys faced little choice but to empty the playbook while trailing by seven. Empty the playbook, they did.
Under the direction of head coach Mike McCarthy, the Cowboys lined up with eight wide, two in the backfield and Elliott playing center with no offensive line around him. It was an innovative look intent on getting the Cowboys' best playmakers on the field.
It also left Elliott exposed for the inevitable. As soon as Elliott snapped the ball, 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair trucked him to the turf, forcing immediate pressure on Prescott.
Ezekiel Elliott at center⁉️
This was the Cowboys’ final play of the season 🤨pic.twitter.com/sB1mtCMMf3
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 23, 2023
Prescott scrambled and found KaVontae Turpin over the middle. Turpin was tackled for a short gain before he had a chance to lateral the ball. Game over for the Cowboys, who ended another season with a playoff loss featuring questionable game management and execution down the stretch.
McCarthy addressed the play in his postgame news conference.
"I really don't want to get into detail on it, but that obviously wasn't the plan," McCarthy said. "It's obviously a gadget play or whatever to end it. It's the last-play-situation call we practice."
Was the play also the end of Elliott's Cowboys career? If so, it was an unfortunate way to go out.
Elliott enters next season under contract. The Cowboys could be motivated to release the seven-year veteran, who has been on the decline since signing a six-year, $90 million deal in 2019. The contract's guarantees have been paid out, but the Cowboys would be on the hook for $11.86 million in dead salary-cap space next season if they cut Elliott. Keeping him would incur a cap hit of $16.72 million, a $4.86 million difference.
Meanwhile, Tony Pollard has emerged as the Cowboys' best running back. He made the Pro Bowl this season while Elliott averaged a career-low 3.8 yards per carry. Further complicating matters is the injury Pollard sustained in Sunday's game. Pollard was carted off the field and reportedly sustained a fractured fibula. He'll be a free agent in the offseason.
However Pollard's situation works out, the Cowboys could be pressed to rid themselves of Elliott's contract. If that's the case, his final play with the Cowboys is one to forget.