Hixon's 79-yard special-teams score served as a dagger to the heart of Wade Phillips' Cowboys. It came late in the fourth quarter with Dallas already trailing by a touchdown. Hixon ran into a crowd, broke free, then hustled four-fifths of the field down the right sideline to put the Giants up 31-17 with 5:33 left in the game.
"It's a credit to the 10 guys up front," Hixon said. "They knew we were close, and today we finally broke it."
No one in a Giants uniform had "broke it" since Chad Morton did it on opening day of the 2005 season. Eli Manning was a wide-eyed second-year signal caller entering his first full year as a starter back then. On Sunday he showed the poise and savvy of a Super Bowl MVP, never faltering as he led New York back from a 10-point deficit.
The Cowboys found the end zone first on a four-yard pass from Tony Romo to Roy Williams with 3:14 remaining before the half. That gave Dallas a 10-0 lead, but also served as a wakeup call to Manning and the Giants.
New York responded with a four-play, 74-yard drive that culminated in a 21-yard touchdown toss from Manning to rookie wideout Hakeem Nicks. Rather than run the clock and take a lead into the locker room, Phillips sent Dallas marching down the field in search of a larger lead.
Instead, they turned it over as Marion Barber fumbled at midfield and New York's Osi Umenyiora recovered the ball and returned it to the Dallas 28. Four plays later, Brandon Jacobs plunged into the end zone from one yard out to give the Giants their first lead. The point-after gave New York a 14-10 edge at the half.
New York kept the momentum going on their first drive of the second half, moving from their own 23 to the Dallas 25 in just over three minutes. But a lofty throw to the end zone by Manning was picked off by Mike Jenkins, effectively killing the drive.
After an exchange of punts, Romo found Williams in the end zone for another score and another Dallas lead, 17-14. The Giants struck right back, as Manning dumped off to Jacobs on the next play from scrimmage. The hulking halfback then took it 74 yards down the left sideline for a score.
The Giants never relinquished the lead from there as Lawrence Tynes made his only field goal of the game before Hixon's big return. A late touchdown pass by Romo proved inconsequential as New York (7-5) ran out the clock for their second victory in their past three games.
Tom Coughlin's Giants now find themselves just a half-game behind Arizona and Green Bay for the last playoff spot in the NFC. The Cardinals play host to division-leading Minnesota tonight on NBC while Green Bay plays Baltimore on Monday Night Football.
New York also trails the Cowboys and Philadelphia by one game in the NFC East division standings. The Eagles and Giants will square off next Sunday night on NBC. The Cowboys will return home to host San Diego earlier that day.
Photo: Bill Kostroun/AP