STRIKING GOLD After going off-course early, Cowboys stage 2nd road rally By CLARENCE E. HILL JR. Star-Telegram Staff Writer SAN FRANCISCO - For much of the last week, the Cowboys have been mad at themselves about losing a game they thought they should have won. Well, consider the Cowboys "even" after Sunday's 34-31 comeback win against San Francisco at Monster Park. For roughly three quarters Sunday, the Cowboys, seemingly on continual meltdown mode from last Monday's 14-13 loss to Washington, did everything they could to lose. Frustrated guard Larry Allen pushed kicker Jose Cortez in the face after a missed extra point, snapping Cortez's neck back. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Coach Bill Parcells made what he called a "dumb" decision to try a fake punt that almost cost the Cowboys dearly. And the defense made quarterback Tim Rattay and receiver Brandon Lloyd look like the second coming of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Despite falling behind 21-6 in the first half, then 31-19 heading into the fourth quarter, the Cowboys kept fighting. There was a 1-yard touchdown run by Julius Jones early in the fourth quarter, followed by a 14-yard touchdown reception by receiver Keyshawn Johnson with 1 minute, 51 seconds left. In the end, the Cowboys were able to do to the 49ers what the Redskins did to them: steal a game in which they were outplayed. Parcells said his team showed a great deal of character in battling back. Though there were tons of negatives, he said the positives of competing and making plays to win a close game on the road are all that matter. "We caused ourselves our own trouble early," Parcells said. "But I think we proved we could take a punch. There are things we've got to do better, but getting out of here with a win is big." For the second time in three weeks, the Cowboys rallied to win. They beat San Diego 28-24 in the season opener on a touchdown pass with 3:06 left. Bledsoe to Johnson was the difference then as now. On Sunday, Bledsoe completed 24 of 38 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Johnson was one of five receivers to catch at least four passes. Tight end Jason Witten led the way with six receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Terry Glenn caught five passes for 137 yards. Johnson caught five for 74. None was bigger than Johnson's game-winner. Parcells didn't think the Cowboys could get a first down on the play. Johnson and Bledsoe had other ideas. "Keyshawn and I talked about going deeper than the play was designed so he could get the first down," Bledsoe said. "Then it was an athletic play on his part to get in the end zone. "You get down there close and Keyshawn is a big target. He gives [you] a lot of room to throw the ball." Johnson downplayed the touchdown but emphasized the importance of the victory heading into Sunday's game at Oakland. The Cowboys (2-1) will stay in California to prepare. "We had five days to prepare. We came out here early [because of the hurricane]. There were tons of distractions," Johnson said. "We are going to be out here all week. Then we get down early. But we fought back. That was important. "What matters most is we won. That was big for us." The Cowboys have played in three games decided by less than a touchdown. Parcells likes the mental toughness the team has shown in winning two of those contests. However, he also knows that early mistakes and miscues can't continue if the Cowboys hope to end their season in the playoffs. Rattay and the 49ers scored four of the five times they touched the ball in the first half. Lloyd scored on an 89-yard catch and run against cornerback Anthony Henry, and safety Tony Parrish returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown. Add in Allen's altercation with Cortez, and things didn't look good. The Cowboys continued to melt down in the third quarter with Parcells' decision to try a fake punt. Linebacker Dat Nguyen made up for it with a fumble recovery, but a Bledsoe interception on the ensuing series set up a 13-yard touchdown pass to Lloyd. The Cowboys rallied in the fourth quarter thanks to improved play on defense, which finished with three takeaways and held the 49ers to 163 yards in the second half. Bledsoe completed 8 of 13 passes for 95 yards in the fourth quarter. ONLINE: dallascowboys.com COWBOYS 34 49ERS 31 THE COMEBACK The Cowboys trailed 31-19 late in the third quarter before they put together 72- and 76-yard drives to grab their first lead with 1:51 remaining. Dat Nguyen's interception at the 49ers' 43 sealed the victory. BLEDSOE'S BIG DAY Drew Bledsoe was 24-of-38 for 363 yards and two TDs. It was his first 300-yard game since 2003, and the most yards by a Cowboys QB since Troy Aikman threw for 363 yards against Miami in October 1996. PERSEVERANCE The Cowboys were burned on an 89-yard touchdown pass, and two interceptions led to San Francisco scores. But after they fell behind 21-6, the Cowboys matched each San Francisco score with a touchdown. IN THE KNOW BREAKDOWN Why the Cowboys won: It was a combination of luck and grit that propelled the Cowboys. They were lucky to be in the game as poorly as they played, but they made plays at the end to win it. Why the 49ers lost: They had a chance to go for the jugular right before halftime, but a fumbled snap and a mental mistake made them settle for a field goal and gave the Cowboys the wiggle room to get back in the game. Notable: Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe finished with 363 passing yards. The last time he had a bigger number was in 2002. BY THE NUMBERS 1 Marion Barber was the only Cowboys active player not to play in the game. 5 Times a Bill-Parcells coached team has beaten the 49ers. He's 5-8 all time. 6.2 Average gain per play by the Cowboys. 7 Career interceptions by linebacker Dat Nguyen, including one against the 49ers. 12 Plays the 49ers ran that went for 10 or more yards 12 Games before Sunday since a Cowboys quarterback passed for more than 300 yards. (Vinny Testaverde vs. Green Bay on Oct. 24, 2004). 18 Career 100-yard receiving games by Terry Glenn, including two in 2005. 33% Cowboys' fourth-down efficiency (1 of 3). They were 9 of 17 in 2004. 35.5 Average yards per catch for San Francisco's Brandon Lloyd. 46% Cowboys' third-down efficiency (6 of 13). 82% Cowboys' red-zone efficiency this season. They were 5-for-5 Sunday, 4-for-4 at San Diego and 0-for-2 against Washington. 90.1 Drew Bledsoe's passer rating Sunday.