Watching Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys light up a better-than-their-record San Francisco 49ers team on the road Sunday, I kept wondering if the experience resembled a summer fling for the Cowboys and their fans.
It had to be a heck of a lot of fun, but it also had to be hard to fully enjoy while considering what likely looms.
Just as an obligation to return to the real world has stomped out young love after Labor Day on countless occasions, there's a good chance the courts stomp out Elliott and the Cowboys in the coming weeks. And if or when that happens, Sunday's exceptional performance could serve as nothing more than a fond memory for a team that again fails to compete for a championship.
Elliott amassed 219 scrimmage yards and scored three touchdowns in a 40-10 blowout, but those not reading this from underneath a rock know that the NFL suspended the 22-year-old superstar in the offseason following its investigation into allegations of domestic violence, and the league and the NFLPA continue to fight a legal battle regarding the ban.
Elliott was granted a restraining order last week that delayed the suspension until October 30, when his motion for a preliminary injunction against an arbitrator's decision to uphold the six-game suspension is scheduled to be heard.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the league wants to move that hearing up several days in an effort to prevent Elliott from taking the field for the Cowboys' crucial Week 8 matchup with the division rival Washington Redskins. So there's a chance Elliott is forced to miss every game between now and the end of November.
If Elliott is forced to miss six of the season's final nine or 10 games, the Cowboys could be DOA. The man has 490 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in his last three games, with the team scoring 101 points during that stretch. But they're only 1-2 in that span because a vulnerable defense has been preyed on.
Dallas was already having trouble consistently winning games. They're only 3-3, and there's no guarantee Elliott, sensational second-year quarterback Dak Prescott and one of the league's best offensive lines can overcome defensive deficiencies with enough consistency to catch up to the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.
Remove Elliott from that equation for six games and the task might be impossible, especially considering the schedule. Beyond next week's game in Washington, the Cowboys will face the 5-2 Kansas City Chiefs, the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, the league-leading Eagles, the streaking Los Angeles Chargers and then the Redskins again to close out November.
Without Elliott, they'd probably be underdogs in at least four of those six affairs.
Of course, there's a chance Elliott and the union are granted that preliminary injunction, which would likely keep him on the field the remainder of the 2017 season. But the NFL has a winning record in head-to-head courtroom matchups with the players association, and NFL Vice President of Communications Joe Lockhart said on Friday—per USA Today's Mike Jones—that the league is "confident that our argument will prevail in court later this month."
That's enough to serve as an elephant on the field, even on a day in which Elliott had six double-digit-yard gains for a team that scored 40 points, posted 501 net yards and converted seven of 11 third downs.
This was not a memorable NFL Sunday. In fact, it was pretty much a dud. Most games were one-sided, and few plays stood out. But the Cowboys were an exception. They gave us the day's most impressive win, and Elliott gave us its most convincing performance.
The problem is it was hard to savor it all while considering the realities that might lie ahead.
It was a lot of fun, but it might have only been a fling.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.