ARLINGTON, Texas — After being involved in yet another emotional thriller, rallying for two late touchdowns only to lose, the Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny.
It turns out a gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium was a non-factor concerning playoff scenarios.
Dallas' regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins is a winner-take-all showdown for the NFC East title.
After all the close calls during a season that's included three overtime games, the Cowboys' fate is simple. Win and you're in. Lose and your season is over.
“The only reason you play is to get your team into that position to get in the playoffs so you can have a chance,” said Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns. “When you get in anything can happen. We've seen that far too many times.”
Romo and his teammates weren't assured of that scenario after the game. The Cowboys received a reprieve when Baltimore defeated the New York Giants late Sunday afternoon.
“We always thought, even with if (we won) today, we were going to have to win against the Redskins,” said Dallas owner Jerry Jones. “It certainly turns out we do.”
Like so many of Dallas' games this season, the Cowboys supplied late-game drama.
Dallas scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes just to force overtime. Drama? The Cowboys' game-tying score came on fourth down with 15 seconds left in regulation.
The Cowboys, though, failed to sustain momentum. On their first overtime possession they punted after four plays. They would never get the ball back.
Accumulating 562 yards, the Saints quickly marched into Dallas territory. New Orleans won it on a 20-yard Garrett Hartley field goal following a bizarre game-deciding play.
Dallas rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne stripped Saints receiver Marques Colston at the 25-yard line. The ball bounced all the way inside the 5. New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham recovered the fumble to set up Hartley's game-winner.
“It was very frustrating,” Claiborne said. “You're taught to try to get the ball out and it backfired on us ... We just need to go out and get a win in this last game and see what happens.”
The Cowboys needed a frantic rally to force their third overtime game this season, the fifth game decided on the game's final play.