ARLINGTON, Texas -- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints won't go to the playoffs in their season without suspended coach Sean Payton. The Dallas Cowboys might still get there, but they'll need to win next week.
Playing near 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, and the Saints kept the Cowboys' playoff hopes on ice with a 34-31 overtime victory on Sunday.
The Saints (7-8), 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 the Minnesota Vikings beat the Houston Texans, and had to hold off a two-touchdown rally in the final 3:35 from the Cowboys.
"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 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 Cowboys safety Eric Frampton, and 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 (8-7), who had their third consecutive game decided on the last play, had retaken control of their playoff hopes with a three-game winning streak. Despite the loss, Dallas' postseason hopes remained healthy when the New York Giants lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The Cowboys face the Washington Redskins on the road in next week's finale, with a chance to make the playoffs as NFC East champions with a victory. Their chances of making the postseason as a wild card are remote.
"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 completed 26 of 43 passes 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 passing in the ninth 400-yard game of his career.
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.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press