Kettle call: Cowboys ride Elliott’s stunt to bounce-back win

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott signals first down after a long run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys won 26-20. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott probably has a fine coming from the NFL for jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle to celebrate a short touchdown run in a bounce-back win for the Dallas Cowboys.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones sure hopes so.

“My dream is that the NFL would fine the daylights out of him, and I’m going to take them to the Supreme Court,” Jones joked after the Cowboys (12-2) moved closer to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a 26-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.

“And we’re going to get the Salvation Army a lot of notice there.”

All-time NFL rushing leader and former Dallas star Emmitt Smith sure noticed, laughing and clapping from a suite along with plenty of Elliott’s teammates after Elliott made a beeline for one of the kettles following a 2-yard scoring run, jumped in and crouched down far enough to disappear.

The four large kettles — two beyond each end zone — are staples at Dallas games from the Thanksgiving game to the end of the season with one of the team’s most visible charities. And a donation is coming.

“Actually I’m going to match whatever they fine me with a donation to the Salvation Army,” said Elliott, who rushed for a career-high 159 yards to push his NFL-leading total to 1,551.

So Elliott must have answered his own question about getting fined while helping Dallas bounce back a week after a franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended.

“He was actually talking about that pregame, should he do it, will they fine him,” said fellow rookie Dak Prescott, Elliott’s quarterback. “I didn’t know he was actually going to go down and come back up slow. Got a good laugh out of it, him coming up real slowly. It was funny.”

Coach Jason Garrett wasn’t amused, mostly because of the 15-yard penalty assessed on the kickoff.

But Garrett was pleased by Dallas’ response to last week’s loss at the New York Giants. And the rally after a 17-3 lead turned into a 20-17 deficit following a pair of touchdown passes by Jameis Winston.

“One of the words we talked about right from the outset this week was ‘response,'” Garrett said. “We did a good job early in the ballgame to get a lead and they started throwing the ball a lot early in the second half and they went ahead. And again, that word ‘response’ came back to the forefront.”

Things to consider after Dallas stayed two games ahead of the New York Giants in the NFC East, now needing just a win or a New York loss or tie to clinch home field for the postseason:

BUCS PLAYOFF PICTURE: Tampa Bay (8-6) had its five-game winning streak snapped and fell a game behind Atlanta in the NFC South. The Bucs are not currently in the top six in the NFC. “We’ve just got to keep winning, see how it plays out,” Winston said. “I know I’m going to keep fighting. We just got to keep winning games.”

PRESCOTT’S RECOVERY: After his worst game as a pro in a 10-7 loss to the Giants, which generated more talk about former starter and current backup Tony Romo, Prescott went 32 of 36 for 279 yards. “There was less time spent on social media, but that was about the only thing different,” said Prescott, who broke Don Meredith’s 50-year-old club record with his sixth rushing touchdown.

WINSTON IN PRIME TIME: Still looking for his first playoff trip — and the club’s first in nine years — Winston had mixed results in his debut in the Sunday night spotlight. He threw for 247 yards with touchdowns to Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate but had four turnovers, including an interception that led to Dallas’ go-ahead field goal in a 20-all game.

BACK TO DEFENSE: Now that a five-game streak of holding teams to less than 21 points is over after Tampa Bay allowed 449 yards total offense, the Bucs get New Orleans’ Drew Brees again two weeks after intercepting him three times. “We have to learn from this and know we have face another offense with a great quarterback at their home field,” cornerback Brent Grimes said.

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