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Patriots will bring what scoring-challenged Cowboys are missing, Ezekiel Elliott, back to Dallas

Ezekiel Elliott ran for 80 yards on 16 carries Sunday to help the Patriots beat the Jets.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FRISCO, Texas — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys have an early-season reckoning for why they’re having trouble scoring touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line.

One of the plausible theories will be on the other sideline Sunday when the Patriots visit in Ezekiel Elliott’s much-anticipated homecoming. The rough-and-tumble Elliott was a short-yardage TD specialist for Dallas even after the production waned from his days as a two-time rushing champion.

The Cowboys (2-1) just lost 28-16 as a double-digit road favorite in Arizona in part because they reached the end zone just once in five trips inside the 20. That was a week after a 30-10 win over the New York Jets overshadowed a 2-of-6 showing in the red zone.


Prescott, new lead back Tony Pollard and the rest of the offense need to show Elliott and the Patriots (1-2) the Cowboys can punch it in without a prototypical power back. Elliott was released in a cost-cutting move in the offseason.

“Even with the win last week, that was the sore spot in the win,” Prescott said. “You look at this loss, moved the ball up and down the field and just couldn’t score. That’s the reason for this loss.”

The Cowboys, whose fast start was surprisingly derailed in the desert, weren’t afraid to acknowledge the emotional effect of the midweek loss of star cornerback Trevon Diggs to a season-ending knee injury.

Dallas also played without three starters on the offensive line because of injuries, including six-time All-Pro right guard Zack Martin after he injured an ankle against the Jets.

A defense that generated 17 sacks and turnovers combined the first two weeks had just a pair of sacks against the Cardinals.

Dallas never led while committing 13 penalties for 107 yards, and Arizona scored on all five first-half possessions.


“This is the tough part about playing in the National Football League,” said star pass rusher Micah Parsons, who had one of the sacks. “Every team has this day. Last two weeks, we were on fire and today we got lit. You look across the league, it happened to a couple of teams. Reality sets in.”

The Cowboys never could beat Tom Brady’s Patriots, losing all five meetings from 2003-19. They are 8-1 against all New England quarterbacks not named Brady, including a 35-29 overtime victory against Mac Jones and crew two years ago.