SF collapse sets up classic Cowboys comeback

Walker's TD put Niners ahead in third quarter

Jim Harbaugh had the 49ers on the verge of moving back into the spotlight with a signature victory only two games into his NFL coaching tenure Sunday afternoon before it all washed away at the end, when the Dallas Cowboys came storming back from a late 10-point deficit to force an overtime period where the Niners completed a rather stunning collapse that dropped them to 1-1.


Alex Smith threw an interception moments after San Francisco picked off a pass by backup quarterback Jon Kitna in the end zone. The offensive line turned Smith into a tackling dummy, allowing six sacks. The defense completely fell apart in the second half and overtime.

In other words, the 49ers still have work to do. A lot of work.

Tony Romo returned from a fractured rib and connected with Jesse Holley on a 77-yard completion on the Cowboys' first play in overtime to set up Dan Bailey's winning 19-yard field goal, and Dallas pulled off an improbable 27-24 comeback victory before a stunned sellout crowd at Candlestick Park.

That crowd featured a lot of fans that were cheering for the Cowboys, a roar that grew louder as Dallas rallied from a 24-14 deficit with 11:12 to play by scoring on each of its final three possessions, rolling over the Niners for 201 yards of offense on those three drives.

"We had a chance to make a statement and we failed to do that," safety Madieu Williams said. "We were in the midst of starting 2-0, but we couldn't close it out. Good teams find a way to win. And they're a good team."

Clearly, the 49ers aren't good enough yet.

Williams was beaten for two of Miles Austin's three touchdown receptions as the Cowboys rolled up 432 yards passing on their way to out-gaining the 49ers 472-206 in total yardage.

In a week when Romo vowed to play his best, he delivered a gutsy comeback that looked unlikely when he briefly came out from halftime and then returned to the locker room under doctor's orders.

Just when the Cowboys (1-1) announced the quarterback was done for the day, there came No. 9 ready to take charge of the huddle once again. No matter that he had a hard time breathing and barking out the cadence.

In one frantic span, Romo emphatically left his mark on the storied Cowboys-49ers rivalry that dates back decades to all those epic matchups in the NFC title game that regularly set up Super Bowl victories by the winner.

It was an exact reverse of what happened a week earlier: a 27-24 road loss to the Jets after Dallas blew a late 14-point lead. Romo's late interception contributed to that Week 1 collapse. Bailey also kicked a tying 48-yard field goal Sunday as time expired in regulation after missing an early 21-yard attempt.

And it was the exact opposite for the 49ers as well, coming after a week when they beat NFC West rival Seattle at home with a late flourish.

"We have to be mentally tough, we have to keep looking each other in the eye, keep preparing," Harbaugh said. "This is not going to defeat us."

Romo completed five of six passes on the tying drive, connecting on consecutive throws to Holley before finding him again in OT. He wasn't the only one playing hurt, either. Running back Felix Jones separated his shoulder early in the game, owner Jerry Jones said, and receiver Dez Bryant missed the game because of a thigh injury.

Austin had all three Dallas touchdowns among his nine catches for 143 yards, leaping over a defender and diving into the end zone to pull Dallas within 24-21 with 6:55 to play. Austin later hurt his hamstring.

Jones won't need to defend Romo after this one. He grimaced and limped. He needed help from a lineman to stand up as the vicious hits kept coming.

Romo completed 20 of 33 passes for 345 yards and backup Kitna found Austin for a 5-yard TD, but also threw two interceptions during his brief appearance. As Romo's teammates celebrated, cheered and hugged, he slowly made his way to midfield for postgame handshakes.

He didn't give coach Jason Garrett much chance to keep him out of the game once back on the sideline for the second time.

"I just told him I was good to go. I think he asked some of the guys," Romo said. "I didn't give him too much of a chance. I just ran on the field."

Smith threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns, including a 29-yard strike to Delanie Walker in the third quarter. He completed 16 of 24 passes and also rushed for 21 yards while compiling a passer rating of 99.1

Frank Gore ran for a 1-yard score and Kyle Williams had a 12-yard touchdown catch as San Francisco took command to go ahead 14-0 late in the second quarter. But the Niners never could establish their running game behind Gore, who rushed for only 47 yards on 20 carries.

Romo hit Austin over the middle on a short slant and the receiver did the rest on a 53-yard scoring pass on the first play after the two-minute warning that brought the Cowboys within 14-7 at halftime.

Romo returned for the last series of the third quarter, the final 15 minutes and OT.

Dallas had a final chance in regulation, getting the ball back with 4:03 to play starting from its own 26.

Romo, in the shotgun as he'd been most of the day, delivered on third-and-6 from the 43 with a 7-yard completion to Austin. They connected on another 7-yard gain the next play.

After Jones this week called Romo's performance against the Jets "outstanding," Romo made all the right calls in crunch time.

Romo played through multiple hits in the first half. The QB came up slowly after being clobbered on a blindside cornerback blitz by Carlos Rogers as he was throwing in the second quarter.

Romo looked to be headed for another tough day.

The Cowboys came up short on a 76-yard drive over the opening 7½ minutes after Bailey missed wide right on his 21-yard field goal attempt. Then, it was three straight three-and-outs by Romo and Co.

For the 49ers, watching this one get away will be tough. They now go on the road for games at Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

San Francisco's Braylon Edwards limped off with a right knee injury after making a 21-yard catch on San Francisco's third offensive play. He was missed the rest of the way as the Niners also were without receiver Michael Crabtree, who did not dress for the game because of a foot injury.

"I certainly don't think it's a step backwards at all," Smith said. "There's certainly no satisfaction in coming close, but I thought we did a lot of good things. We played a very good team that had their backs against the wall in a must-win situation. If a few go differently, it's a different game."

Instead, everything went the Cowboys way when it counted, and the Niners let what would have been a momentous victory slip through their hands when it was well within their grasp.

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