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Originally published January 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 6, 2007 at 9:35 PM

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Hawks win a wild, wild wild-card game

The Seahawks advance in the postseason after a series of stunning lead changes late in their game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Seattle Times staff reporter

They were all but finished. The Seahawks season was less than seven minutes from being over.

Heads were hanging around jam-packed Qwest Field. The Seahawks had missed a chance to tie the score when they failed to get a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2.

But there was still some magic in the defending NFC champions, and the Seahawks found it by rallying, then hanging on for a 21-20 win.

Cornerback Jordan Babineaux saved the day and the Seahawks season, for now, when he caught Dallas quarterback and holder Tony Romo from behind on a fumbled snap and rush attempt from the Seattle 2.

The Seahawks needed only to run time off the clock with a drive, and they managed to do just that. But several events led to such an improbable win in the face of near-certain closure to the Seahawks' hopes for a postseason run.

Credit both sides of the ball. Trailing 20-13 with 6:42 left in the game, the defense made something happen.

After the missed fourth-down play, the Cowboys started with the ball at their own 2.

A pass to the Cowboys' Terry Glenn was knocked out of his hands by Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings, and wild scramble for the ball in the end zone followed.

Safety Michael Boulware ended up with the ball on what was first ruled a touchdown. But the Cowboys challenged the ruling, and it was overturned to a safety.

Make it 20-15 Dallas.

The safety meant a free kick to the Seahawks, and Nate Burleson returned it 19 yards to midfield. Four plays later, Hasselbeck found Jerramy Stevens wide open ahead of the defense for a touchdown, and the Seahawks took a 21-20 lead with 4:24 to play.

Few thought that would be the final score, especially after the Cowboys drove to the Seattle 2 with 1:19 left. On fourth down from the 2, needing one yard for the first down, Dallas decided to kick the field goal and take the lead.

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It was a chip shot for Martin Gramatica. Twenty yards. But Romo, in his first-ever playoff game, bobbled the snap and had to run. He came up a yard short of the end zone.

The Seahawks got the ball and worked the clock to eight seconds left. They punted. Romo's Hail Mary pass was knocked down in the end zone and the game was over.

Now the Seahawks move on. They'll play the Chicago Bears on the road next weekend if the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the New York Giants Sunday. They'll head to New Orleans if the Giants win.

The Seahawks can only hope that they can get healthier now that they have another week to prepare for a game. They can only hope that their offense, which struggled last night to build continuity, finds that very thing.

Tonight, though, was about survival and advancement in what was likely the Seahawks' last home game this season. The Seahawks scored first to cap off their first drive of the game. A 31-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Bobby Engram set up Josh Brown for a 23-yard field goal.

Seattle stopped the Cowboys on their first drive, but quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was hit as he threw by the Cowboys' Kenyon Coleman on the first play of the Seahawks' second possession. The ball wobbled into the hands of cornerback Anthony Henry for an interception.

It could have been disastrous. But the Seahawks' defense knuckled up and stubbornly allowed just 11 yards from their own 43 yard-line, thanks to a couple of tackles for loss. Dallas settled for a 50-yard Gramatica field goal to tie the score.

Dallas put together a 10-play, 76-yard drive to end the second quarter that included Romo's 32-yard pass to tight end Jason Witten down to the Seattle 3. The Cowboys were backed up by a penalty, but Romo found Patrick Crayton for a 13-yard touchdown, Crayton lunging through tacklers and over the goal line.

The Cowboys took a 10-6 lead into halftime.

Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher got his team off to a good start to the second half when he sacked Romo and forced a fumble. The Cowboys recovered after an 8-yard loss.

After they punted, the Seahawks' offense really got going. If only temporarily.

Hasselbeck, off-target too often for his liking, hit Jerramy Stevens for 13 yards. Then D.J. Hackett made fingertip grab. On fourth-and-inches from the Dallas 31, Alexander picked up the first down with a four-yard burst.

Mike Holmgren wasn't done gambling. And what a payoff. Facing fourth-and-a full yard from the 18, Alexander picked up another first down. On the very next play, Hasselbeck found Stevens for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The Seahawks had the lead, 13-10, and the momentum. It lasted 11 seconds.

That's how long it took the Cowboys' Miles Austin to go 93 yards for a touchdown on the kickoff.

The Seahawks got the ball to start the fourth quarter trying to find an answer. Instead, it was another turnover.

Hasselbeck, trying to find Hackett on the right side, was picked off by safety Roy Williams. The ruling was challenged when Williams was close to the sideline on the interception, but upheld.

The Cowboys moved the ball to the Seattle 10 before their drive stalled. They settled for a field goal and a 20-13 lead. And then came the heroics.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

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