- Associated Press - Sunday, December 23, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas — 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.

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