Returning to Dallas no longer big deal for Jones

Homecomings aren’t what they used to be for Julius Jones.

Last year he had Seattle’s date against his former team circled and highlighted beginning seven months before the Seahawks played at Dallas. He then called it “a huge game for me,” adding that he was “a little salty” about the way he went from owner of the Cowboys‘ first 1,000-yard season since Emmitt Smith in 2001 to a castoff in a matter of months in 2007.

Then Jones fumbled twice and gained 37 yards on 11 brutal carries, part of Seattle’s disastrous Thanksgiving Day loss. Coach Mike Holmgren benched him that day, and Jones essentially disappeared for the rest of the 2008 season.

No wonder he seems like he’s trying to sneak back to Dallas this time, to play Sunday against the team that discarded him two years ago.

“Yeah, right now it’s just another game,” Jones said. “I did the whole thing last year. It’s definitely a better approach (now). I got booed last year, I’m anxious to see what they do this year. They might throw a tomato or something at me.”

That’s if fans there even remember him.

Jones still owns a home in the Dallas area next to Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, but said he’s rarely in it anymore. Dallas slammed the door on Jones’ time there when they gave his replacement, Marion Barber, a $45 million contract extension about a month after Jones left.

And Jones has yet to truly feel at home with the Seahawks, with whom he signed a four-year contract potentially worth almost $12 million in March 2008.

He thought he was done sharing when he left Dallas and Barber. Then a month after he got to Seattle, the Seahawks released former MVP Shaun Alexander, further clearing Jones’ path back to stardom.

Jones, 28, was thought to be the centerpiece to Seattle’s remodeling of its running game two years ago. But Holmgren named perennial backup Maurice Morris as the co-lead back entering last season.

Jones finished with 698 yards rushing and just two touchdowns – barely 100 yards more than his career low from that last year in Dallas, with the same amount of scores – and Seattle sank to 4-12.

New coach Jim Mora brought in offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his zone-blocking running game for 2009. Knapp’s proven system, with eight consecutive finishes in the NFL’s top 10 in rushing offense, demands backs make one cut and go. The scheme was supposed to better fit Jones’ rushing style.

Yet he has just 290 yards in six games, running behind an offensive line that has been missing three injured starters. He had 5 yards on five carries in his last game, Oct. 18 against Arizona, as Seattle (2-4) rushed for a franchise-record low 14 yards in a 27-3 loss.

A bigger day from Jones – or at least one better than last season’s holiday flop in Dallas – could keep healing quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and thus the Seahawks in the game this time. Without a running game to worry about last November, the Cowboys rampaged for seven sacks of Hasselbeck, who was so battered he didn’t play again last season.

“We couldn’t do anything right, they couldn’t do wrong,” said Hasselbeck, whose broken ribs are still healing. “The whole year was tough, but I think that was a painful game in more ways than one.”

Jones may run to nowhere again Sunday in Dallas, given the Seahawks are down to their fifth left tackle, Damion McIntosh, and that left guard Rob Sims will be starting for the first time in four weeks following a high ankle sprain.

Yet Jones is saying individual accomplishments matter less to him now than it may have, say, last year before that “huge” homecoming gone bad.

“I want to do well this year,” Jones said. “(But) we’ve got two wins, and 10 games left. We’re trying to make the playoffs. We’re trying to do a lot of great things, and it starts with this weekend.

“I say it’s a must-win. Every game from here on out is a must-win for us.”