Dallas Cowboys running back Julius Jones is hugged by right guard Andre Gurode after Jones scored the winning touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter Monday, Dec. 6, 2004, at Qwest Field in Seattle. The Cowboys beat the Seahawks 43-39.
TED S. WARREN
SEATTLE - Julius Jones flashed through the line, juked a defender and zipped into the end zone.
Just like that, the Dallas Cowboys' playoff prospects improved. And just like that, the Seattle Seahawks were again left to explain how they crumbled so helplessly in the closing minutes.
Jones capped a remarkable comeback with a 17-yard touchdown run with 32 seconds left, and Dallas stunned the struggling Seahawks 43-39 on Monday night to pull into the crowded NFC playoff picture.
''I have confidence in myself, but this is really unexpected,'' Jones said.
With the rookie running for 198 yards and three touchdowns, the Cowboys (5-7) overcame a 10-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining.
Then they breathed a sigh of relief when Matt Hasselbeck's desperation heave from midfield bounced off two Dallas defenders and receiver Bobby Engram's facemask before landing in the end zone on the final play.
''I proved that I can handle the load,'' Jones said. ''And tonight we did it as a team. This is huge. We still have a shot at the playoffs. We needed this game.''
Vinny Testaverde threw for 225 yards and three TDs, including a 34-yard scoring pass to Keyshawn Johnson that pulled Dallas to 39-35 with 1:45 left. Tight end Jason Witten recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Dallas was in business at its own 43.
''We were poised,'' Johnson said. ''We felt we had to hang in there because we had plenty of time.''
Jones ripped a 16-yard run to move Dallas to the 17. After an incompletion, Jones burst through the middle for his third touchdown, capping an eight-play, 57-yard drive.
''They were going to have to do something quite spectacular to come back, and they did,'' Hasselbeck said. ''They made some great plays at the end. That catch by Keyshawn was great.''
Seattle (6-6) fell into a tie with St. Louis atop the NFC West, but the Rams hold the tiebreaker because they've beaten the Seahawks twice.
It was reminiscent of a fourth-quarter collapse in week 4 against St. Louis, when the Seahawks blew a 27-10 lead and lost 33-27 in overtime. Since then, Seattle has won just three of nine.
''I felt pretty good when we were up by 10 with a couple minutes to go,'' Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. ''Let's just say it: You should win those. We've lost two of those this year, and it might prevent us from getting into the playoffs.''
The Cowboys blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter themselves before rallying. They scored 26 unanswered points spanning the second and third quarters, aided by three Seattle fumbles. Jerheme Urban had one after catching a pass, Hasselbeck had another and Shaun Alexander had the third.
''We are our own worst enemy,'' Holmgren said. ''We were tonight. I know I've said that before. We do some very good things and then we do some things that demonstrate a lack of maturity. It has cost us dearly this season.''
Hasselbeck completed 28 of 40 passes for 414 yards and three TDs. He led the Seahawks on three TD drives in the fourth quarter, and it seemed good enough to win after Alexander's 32-yard run put Seattle up 39-29 with 2:46 to play.
''I really thought we had put the game away at that point,'' Hasselbeck said.
Jones broke his left shoulder in his NFL debut on Sept. 19, but he's been sensational after an eight-week absence. After going for 150 yards rushing and two TDs as Dallas beat Chicago on Thanksgiving Day, he shined again in Seattle.
''We need wins like this, a tough one on the road,'' Jones said. ''This might set apart the teams that can make the playoffs and which ones can't.''
Testaverde had a good effort, completing 18 of 34 passes. He and Hasselbeck took turns marching their teams downfield in the fourth quarter and getting into the end zone.
This was old hat to the 41-year-old Testaverde, who was taking snaps for the New York Jets four years ago when he led his team to a 40-37 overtime win against Miami - a game known as the Monday Night Miracle.
''That was a very special night, too,'' Testaverde said. ''I told the guys when we came in here, 'You guys need to remember this one because it will be very special to you.'''
The loss spoiled a big night by Jerry Rice, who became the NFL's career leader in combined net yards on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck in the first quarter. With eight receptions for 145 yards, he boosted his 20-year total to 23,469 yards.
Afterward, all Rice could talk about was the loss.
''It's really hard,'' he said. ''I feel like we left everything on the field. I feel like we fought back and had a chance to win it, so this is a really tough one to swallow.''
Notes: Seattle DT Marcus Tubbs was carted off the field in the closing minutes. ''Don't ask me about my ankle,'' he told reporters. ... The attendance of 68,093 was a record for Seattle's three-year-old stadium. ... Former Seattle Mariners DH Edgar Martinez, who just retired after a 17-year major league career, raised the ceremonial ''12th Man'' flag before kickoff.
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