IRVING, Tex. — The Minnesota Vikings were just trying to get into field-goal position. But Darrin Nelson had other ideas.
Nelson broke three tackles and ran 24 yards for a touchdown in overtime Thursday to hand the Vikings a 44-38 victory that severely damaged the Dallas Cowboys' National Football League playoff hopes.
"We were talking on the sidelines how we were running that play to give us field-goal position, then I looked up and saw Darrin crossing the goal," Viking Coach Jerry Burns said. "It was a nice surprise. Darrin had one great day."
Nelson, who also ran 52 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, hadn't scored a touchdown this season before Thursday, but his two scores put the Vikings, 7-4 in the NFC Central, in prime position for the playoffs.
Burns was cautious about claiming a wild-card berth, saying: "We still play the Chicago Bears among other teams. We haven't clinched anything yet."
The loss spoiled a five-touchdown performance by Dallas quarterback Danny White, who threw three of his four scoring passes to Mike Renfro. But it was an interception of White's pass in overtime that led to the winning score.
An emotionally drained Dallas Coach Tom Landry said: "I'm very disappointed. I thought we were going to win it.
"Our playoff chances don't look good at all now at 5-6" in the NFC East, Landry said. "It's a long shot for us.
"Danny made the plays for us, but he just didn't execute in overtime. I'm not sure why he threw that pass that was intercepted. There wasn't a receiver over there."
Landry said the Cowboys "just couldn't control the skill people, Anthony Carter and Nelson. They just killed us."
Carter caught 8 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Nelson rushed 16 times for 118 yards.
White completed 25 of 41 passes for 341 yards and 4 touchdowns but suffered a damaging interception late in regulation play and another in overtime.
Scott Studwell made the second interception, giving the Vikings the ball at the Minnesota 37. Carter made the key play of the drive when he caught a 24-yard pass from Wade Wilson to give the Vikings a first down at the Dallas 26. Nelson scored two plays later.
White's fourth scoring pass tied the game, 38-38, with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter. On second and two from the Minnesota 18, Renfro made an acrobatic catch for the score.
White took the Cowboys 52 yards in five plays for that touchdown, capping the third Dallas rally from a 14-point deficit. They trailed 14-0, 28-14 and 38-24, but each time came back to tie.
Nelson's 52-yard scoring run gave the Vikings a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter.
Roger Ruzek's 38-yard field goal and White's 8-yard pass to Renfro brought Dallas within four points. White broke Roger Staubach's club career completion record of 1,685 on the play.
Chuck Nelson's 34-yard goal put the Vikings ahead, 31-24, with 13:33 to go.
Carter, who caught touchdown throws of 11 and 37 yards from Tommy Kramer in the first half, made a leaping catch on a 51-yard play to set up the touchdown that gave Minnesota a 38-24 edge. Rick Fenney scored it on a one-yard run with 8:24 to go.
White came back with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Renfro with 6:04 left that made it 38-31. After Dallas forced a punt, the Cowboys moved to the tying score.
The Vikings had a final chance to win it in the last minute of regulation.
Issiac Holt made a spectacular interception of a sideline pass at the Minnesota 48-yard line with 34 seconds remaining to stop Dallas' final threat. Wilson's 22-yard pass to Leo Lewis on a third-and-12 play put the Vikings at the Cowboy 28.
But Chuck Nelson, who had earlier missed a 47-yard attempt and had another blocked, missed a 46-yarder with nine seconds to play as the game rolled into overtime.
Kramer, nursing a bruised hand, passed to Carter for two touchdown passes and also ran one yard for another score as the Vikings built a 21-14 halftime lead.
Wilson started the second half after Kramer bruised his passing arm.
White, nursing a sore wrist that kept him out of last week's game in which Steve Pelluer started, ran one yard for a score and completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Herschel Walker, all in the second quarter.