ARLINGTON, Texas -- The New Orleans Saints were playing for nothing more than pride Sunday afternoon. That was enough to beat a team still harboring playoff hopes.
Along with a fortunate bounce.
A fumble after a catch set the Saints up at Dallas' 2-yard line in overtime, and Garrett Hartley ended it with a chip-shot field goal.
Drew Brees threw three short touchdown passes to lead the Saints to a stunning 34-31 overtime upset victory over the Dallas Cowboys before 92,570 fans at Cowboys Stadium.
The Cowboys came into the game rolling, having won five of six to climb to the top of the NFC East. Dallas, with a win over New Orleans, would have played for the division title next week at Washington.
Instead, the Cowboys (8-7) need to win and get some help in the regular-season finale with the Redskins. Washington beat Dallas at Cowboys Stadium on Thanksgiving.
The win doesn't mean much in the big picture for New Orleans, which has been eliminated from postseason contention for some time. But the Saints (7-8) have refused to mail it in during a season without their coach Sean Payton, and could finish at .500 by beating Carolina next week at the Superdome.
Brees passed for 446 yards and upped his 2012 touchdown total to 39. He also didn't throw an interception for only the fifth time in 15 games this season.
The Saints won the game on their first overtime possession after forcing a Dallas punt. Brees completed a third-down pass to tight end Jimmy Graham to moved New Orleans inside the Cowboys' 35-yard line.
Brees then found Marques Colston on an inside slant. The ball was knocked looses and bounded down to towards the end zone. Graham beat Cowboys safety Eric Frampton to the ball, and the Saints won it from there.
The game had a promising start for Dallas. Tony Romo (416 yards passing and four touchdowns) hooked up with Dez Bryant on a pair of 58-yard touchdown passes in the second quarter, as the Cowboys took an early lead. Bryant's first two first-half scoring receptions this season weren't a foreshadowing of what was to come.
Bryant had just three of his nine receptions after halftime.
New Orleans forced the game's first turnover in the third quarter and regained the lead. With the Cowboys backed up at their 3-yard line, Saints middle linebacker Curtis Loftin stripped DeMarco Murray and recovered the fumble on the Dallas 5.
Drew threw his second touchdown pass, finding Pierre Thomas on third down as New Orleans took a 24-17 lead with 4:08 left in the third. The Saints took that advantage into the fourth.
Brees' third scoring pass made it 31-17 less than four minutes into the fourth. The score was set up by a 60-yard catch-and-run to the Dallas 3 by Colston on third down. Tight end David Thomas scored on the subsequent play to give New Orleans a two-touchdown lead.
Romo led a frantic 80-yard touchdown drive to pull Dallas with 31-24 with 3:40 remaining. The Saints punted the ball back with 1:29 left, with the Cowboys starting on their 36. Romo moved his team inside the New Orleans 20 and faced fourth-and-10.
With the game on the line, Romo hit a back-shoulder touchdown pass to a kneeling Miles Austin with 15 seconds left in regulation. The Cowboys found themselves in overtime for the second straight week and third time this season.
Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey ended Dallas' first drive of the second half with a 47-yard field to knot the game 17-17.
New Orleans took a 17-14 lead into halftime on the strength of 10 points scored in the last 71 seconds. Garrett Hartley's 37-yard field as the clock expired gave New Orleans the lead heading into the locker room.
Brees took the Saints right down the field on their first possession, completing four passes along the way, including two to Colston, before Mark Ingram barreled in from nine yards out. The drive went 80 yards in 10 plays and took more than four minutes off the clock.
The Saints were poised to add to their lead the next time they had the ball, as Brees again had New Orleans knocking on the door. After failing to convert a third-and-1, Hartley missed a 36-yarder early in the second quarter.
The Cowboys didn't let that opportunity go to waste. Three plays later, Romo connected on a 58-yard bomb with Bryant. Play-action set up the pass, as Bryant easily beat Saints corner Patrick Robinson before waltzing into the end zone to tie the game.
Bryant and Romo did it again later in the second period. Set up to Romo's left, Bryant took a short pass, broke away from two feeble tackle attempts and coasted to another touchdown.
The Saints did square the game at 14-14 on Brees' 6-yard score to Lance Moore with 1:11 left in the half. The drive was kept alive by an offside call against Dallas as New Orleans faced fourth-and-2.
NOTES: Cowboys inactives were LB Kyle Wilber, G Ronald Leary, DT Rob Callaway, OT Darrion Weems, G/C Kevin Kowalski, G/C David Arkin and NT Jay Ratliff. ... Saints inactives were WR Saalim Hakim, RB Chris Ivory, FB Jed Collins, LB Scott Shanle, G Ricky Henry, DT Tyrunn Walker and DE Turk McBride. ... Dallas WR Dez Bryant tied a team record with touchdown catches in seven consecutive games. Bryant is the fourth to do it, with Terrell Owens being the last to do it in 2007. ... Cowboys TE Jason Witten set a new NFL record for catches by a tight end with 103. He passed Tony Gonzalez.