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Cowboys edge 49ers in another thriller

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 25, 2005) -- In a rivalry with this much history, it was only fitting for Keyshawn Johnson to borrow a move from a former great to score the dramatic winning touchdown.

Only the Dallas receiver's inspiration played for the other team -- which could make the furious 49ers even more frustrated.

Johnson caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe with 1:51 to play, and the Cowboys rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 34-31 victory against San Francisco.

Johnson's score capped a precise 76-yard scoring drive by the Cowboys (2-1), who fell behind early but rallied late in their third consecutive nail-biting game of the season. After losing their composure and their 13-point lead in the final four minutes to Washington last week, Johnson's catch finished an impressive display of late-game poise.

Johnson said the play was a "speed-out."

"I think it's taken out of Jerry Rice back in the day," he said.

Bledsoe, the veteran acquired for his calm leadership as much as his arm, was 24-for-38 for 363 yards, passing Joe Montana for eighth place on the NFL's career yards passing list with his first 300-yard game since Sept. 14, 2003. Terry Glenn had 137 yards receiving and Julius Jones rushed for two scores for the Cowboys, who would love a relaxing game any weekend now.

"I can't take too many more of these. That's three in a row," Jones said.

Dallas won its opener with an end-zone interception on the final play at San Diego, but Washington rallied for a 14-13 victory last week.

"I think we proved we can take a punch and still win in the end," Dallas coach Bill Parcells said. "You take 'em any way you can. That's three of these right to the wire. Usually, you're only supposed to have four (decided by) three points or under the entire season, so we're almost right up against our quota right now."

Johnson also caught a 2-point conversion pass after his TD, and Dat Nguyen intercepted Tim Rattay's tipped pass at midfield with 54 seconds left.

The clubs have one of the NFL's most enduring rivalries stretching to the early 1970s, when they met in the first of six NFC championship matchups through 1994. Five years and one day ago, Terrell Owens celebrated two scores at Texas Stadium on the star logo at midfield, stirring bad blood between the teams.

There was no bad behavior in this one -- only bad late-game execution by the 49ers.

Brandon Lloyd caught an 89-yard touchdown pass and another scoring toss from Rattay for the 49ers (1-2), who seemed ready to match their victory total from last season, when they finished with the NFL's worst record.

Instead, coach Mike Nolan was enraged by his first home defeat.

"It's unacceptable to lose that game," Nolan said. "They ought to feel the same way. It's unacceptable. We're not a 2-14 football team. When you all of a sudden think that you're a 2-14 football team, that's an OK performance."

Nolan also criticized unnamed players for a lack of "trust" in the game plan and their teammates, intimating that personnel changes could come soon.

"When you call a play, you can do what you're supposed to do on that play, or you can think you know better and try to do what you want," he said. "One is called trust, one is called distrust. ... The ones that trust, and who I believe are champions, will remain here."

Safety Tony Parrish returned one interception 34 yards for a score, and his second pick set up Lloyd's 13-yard TD reception late in the third quarter to put San Francisco up 31-19. Rattay was 21-for-34 for 269 yards and three TDs, but the 49ers scored only once after a second-quarter flurry similar to their impressive effort two weeks ago against St. Louis.

"We never felt it slipping away," Rattay said. "We felt good and confident. I couldn't make any plays near the end, and I take full responsibility for this loss."

In addition to his prolific passing numbers against the 49ers' suspect defense, Bledsoe had only his seventh TD rushing in 13 NFL seasons in the second quarter. Dallas made two lengthy scoring drives in the first half, starting inside its 20 both times -- but early on, the Cowboys' consistency couldn't match the 49ers' knack for big plays.


  • Dallas K Jose Cortez missed an extra point after Dallas' first touchdown, because of a bad snap. Cortez, a former San Francisco kicker, seemed furious after the play -- and veteran lineman Larry Allen shoved him in the face, lifting Cortez's helmet off his head. * Lloyd's catch was the second-longest pass ever completed against the Cowboys. * Bledsoe hadn't been intercepted in Dallas' four preseason games and first two regular-season contests.

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