EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Ever since he was a child, Brandon Jacobs has felt one emotion toward the Dallas Cowboys: hatred.

So when the New York Giants running back sparked a 31-24 victory over Dallas on yesterday that scrambled the NFC East standings, he couldn't have been more thrilled.

"It's the biggest play of my career," Jacobs said of taking a short pass from Eli Manning and going 74 yards for a touchdown that put the Giants in front to stay. "It's extra special against Dallas. That's absolutely a team I can't stand. I've been hating Dallas ever since I knew anything about football."

Jacobs' touchdown was the Giants' longest play of the season - for about 14 minutes. Then Domenik Hixon broke a 79-yard punt return, and suddenly the division is totally up for grabs. Dallas (8-4) and Philadelphia are tied for the lead, with New York (7-5) one game back and set to face the Eagles next Sunday night.

Hixon clinched it by surpassing Jacobs' effort with a scintillating 79-yard punt runback in which he ran into a pile, got free, cut right and down the sideline behind a stream of solid blocks.

"It's a credit to the 10 guys up front," Hixon said. "They knew we were close, and today we finally broke it.

"Every time I get on the field, I have the mindset of taking it all the way."

Jacobs doesn't. He's a bruising, power runner. But he showed his versatility when he broke down the sideline and outran the pursuit.

"I was looking to get 15 to 20 yards," he admitted. "I had no idea I would go the distance."

Was he winded by the end?

"I was good," he joked, "able to celebrate and talk trash."

New York won despite huge stats for Dallas tight end Jason Witten, wide receivers Roy Williams and Miles Austin, and quarterback Tony Romo, who's 5-9 in December games. Witten included his 500th career catch among a career-best 14 receptions for 156 yards. Romo went 41 of 55 for 392 yards, a career high, and three TDs, two to Roy Williams. Austin had 10 catches for 104 yards and one touchdown.

But the Cowboys had yet another December defeat.

"We gave up big plays we don't normally give up," coach Wade Phillips said. "They didn't complete that many passes, but the ones they did were big plays for them."

Dallas 0 10 7 7 – 24

N.Y. Giants 0 14 7 10 – 31

Second quarter

Dal–FG Folk 34, 8:53.

Dal–R.Williams 4 pass from Romo (Folk kick), 3:14.

NYG–Nicks 21 pass from Manning (Tynes kick), 1:46.

NYG–Jacobs 1 run (Tynes kick), :19.

Third quarter

Dal–R.Williams 5 pass from Romo (Folk kick), 3:58.

NYG–Jacobs 74 pass from Manning (Tynes kick), 3:39.

Fourth quarter

NYG–FG Tynes 23, 7:23.

NYG–Hixon 79 punt return (Tynes kick), 5:33.

Dal–Austin 22 pass from Romo (Folk kick), :58.

Attendance: 79,244.

Dallas   N.Y.G.

First downs 27   15

Total Net Yards 424   337

Rushes-yards 23-45   23-100

Passing 379   237

Punt Returns 0-0   3-95

Kickoff Returns 6-111   4-70

Interceptions Ret. 1-0   0-0

Comp-Att-Int 41-55-0   11-25-1

Sacked-Yards Lost 2-13   1-4

Punts 5-45.4   5-39.6

Fumbles-Lost 1-1   2-1

Penalties-Yards 5-30   2-10

Time of Possession 38:50   21:10

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing: Dallas, Barber 15-36, Jones 6-6, Choice 2-3. N.Y. Giants, Bradshaw 7-47, Jacobs 13-39, Boss 1-16, Manning 2-(minus 2).

Passing: Dallas, Romo 41-55-0-392. N.Y. Giants, Manning 11-25-1-241.

Receiving: Dallas, Witten 14-156, Austin 10-104, R.Williams 6-60, Jones 3-13, Barber 3-7, Crayton 2-24, Bennett 2-20, Phillips 1-8. N.Y. Giants, Smith 6-110, Nicks 2-37, Jacobs 1-74, Boss 1-10, Manningham 1-10.

Missed Field Goals: Dallas, Folk 57, 42 (WL).