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12/23/2012 11:05 PM EST
Saints hold off Cowboys rally for 34-31 OT win
NEW ORLEANS 34, DALLAS 31

By SCHUYLER DIXON
AP Sports Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- This miserable season without their
suspended coach won't end in a playoff appearance for Drew Brees
and the New Orleans Saints.



So they helped damage Dallas' chances of making the postseason.



Playing near Sean Payton's home in a Dallas suburb, Brees threw
for 446 yards and three touchdowns and led a drive to Garrett
Hartley's winning 20-yard field goal in overtime for a 34-31
overtime victory Sunday.



But the Cowboys (8-7) regained control of their postseason hopes
when the New York Giants lost at Baltimore later Sunday. Dallas
will make the playoffs as the NFC East champion with a victory
at Washington next weekend.



That game has been flexed to prime-time by the NFL.



A wild-card spot is no longer a possibility for the Cowboys.



The Saints, who started 0-4 after being stunned by the yearlong
ban for Payton in the team's bounty scandal, lost their faint
playoff hopes when Minnesota beat Houston, and had to hold off a
two-touchdown rally in the final 3:35 from the Cowboys.



Tony Romo had 416 yards passing and four touchdowns, including a
19-yarder to Miles Austin with 15 seconds left in regulation to
send the game to overtime.



"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 started the day with their playoff fate in their
hands, and ended it the same way thanks to the Ravens, who beat
the Giants 33-14. A Dallas win over the Redskins would guarantee
a tie atop the NFC East, and the Cowboys hold the tiebreaker
edge.



"When you are in this situation, you have to go forth like you
are playing for a playoff spot," Dallas defensive end Marcus
Spears said. "Trying to determine what will happen, all of that
will get in the way of us preparing for the Redskins."



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.



"There was no panic," Brees said. "It was almost like we knew
the game would come down to something like this. We just wanted
that opportunity and the defense gave it to us."



Romo also had a pair of 58-yard scoring passes to Dez Bryant,
who had a career-high 224 yards receiving. Romo was 26 of 43 and
broke his own franchise record for passing yards in a season. He
has 4,685.



The Saints, coming off a 41-0 blowout of Tampa Bay, took the
lead in the third quarter after a 54-yard punt pinned Dallas at
its 3. On the first play, Curtis Lofton stripped DeMarco Murray
and Lofton recovered at the 5. Brees found Pierre Thomas open at
the goal line for a 24-17 lead.



Brees was 37 of 53 in the ninth 400-yard game of his career.



"I don't know how many more accolades I have to say about him,"
Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said. "You want me to put them on
my W2 form or what?"



The Cowboys put the Saints at their 2 with a 63-yard punt on
their next possession, but Brees responded with a touchdown
drive keyed by a 60-yard completion to Colston, who had 153
yards receiving. Colston broke a tackle by Gerald Sensabaugh
before Sterling Moore ran him down at the Dallas 3.



The Saints turned a 14-7 deficit late in the first half into a
17-14 halftime lead in the final 1:11.



Brees led a 90-yard scoring drive that included Vitt changing
his mind and going on fourth-and-1 from the Dallas 23. A
completion to Colston was overturned on replay, but Cowboys
linebacker Anthony Spencer lined up offside to give the Saints a
first down anyway. Brees threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Lance
Moore three plays later.



NOTES: Dallas tight end Jason Witten had two catches in OT,
breaking Tony Gonzalez's NFL season record of 102 catches for a
tight end set in 2004. Witten has 103. ... Cowboys LB Ernie Sims
left in the first half with dizziness a week after sustaining a
concussion. ... Saints CB Jabari Greer, who had two
interceptions last week, left the game with a concussion.



---



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