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Saints hold off Cowboys rally for 34-31 OT win

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 24, 2012 at 2:40 am •  Published: December 24, 2012
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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys lost control of their playoff fate Sunday — for about three hours.

Drew Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns and led a drive ending in Garrett Hartley's winning 20-yard field goal in overtime, and the New Orleans Saints beat the Cowboys 34-31 in a game that turned out to be meaningless to the postseason hopes of both teams.

The Saints knew they couldn't make the playoffs even before they turned away a two-touchdown rally by Dallas in the final 3:35 of regulation. Minnesota's win over Houston took care of that.

The Cowboys lamented the loss in a third straight game decided on the final play, but the New York Giants falling 33-14 at Baltimore later Sunday left Dallas in essentially the same position. With a win at Washington in next weekend's finale — now flexed for prime time — the Cowboys go to the postseason as NFC East champions.

"Even if we would have won today, we would have needed that game next week obviously," said Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns, including a 19-yarder to Miles Austin that tied the score with 15 seconds left in regulation.

For the third time in five seasons, Dallas (8-7) can get to the playoffs by winning at a division rival on the final day of the regular season. The Cowboys lost such games to the Giants last New Year's night and to Philadelphia in 2008.

"I welcome that challenge," Romo said. "I think we've improved in some areas since those two years."

The Saints started 0-4 after coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season in the team's bounty scandal. Although they reached 5-5, another three-game skid left them needing too much help. They still celebrated plenty when Hartley's winning kick went through at Cowboys Stadium, just a few miles from Payton's home.

"We're never going to let anyone tell us we're not playing for something," Brees said. "We knew there were a lot of things that had to happen. We wanted to worry about the things we could control. What would have been worse is if Minnesota had lost and we had lost."

After New Orleans (7-8) forced a punt on the first possession of overtime, Brees moved the Saints to the Cowboys 33. He completed a pass to Marques Colston, who took a couple of steps before Morris Claiborne stripped the ball, sending it rolling about 20 yards to the Dallas 2.

Jimmy Graham, who said he dislocated a finger on a 26-yard catch to start the drive, won a scrum with Dallas' Eric Frampton. The completion that started the bizarre play was held up on review, clearing the way for Hartley's kick.

"I looked at the replay and I knew there was a fumble," Claiborne said. "I was looking at it saying, 'Please, let the pass be incomplete.'"

The Cowboys pulled within a touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Romo to Dwayne Harris and got the ball back with 1:29 remaining. Romo led the Cowboys 64 yards in seven plays, capped by the tying toss to Austin, who caught the ball on his knees in the end zone. It was Dallas' third overtime game in the past five at home.

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