K Garrett Hartley kicked a 20-yard field goal in overtime to give the New Orleans Saints (7-8) a 34-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys (8-7) Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.
New Orleans has now won seven of the past eight meetings between the two teams.
The Saints will return home to close out the 2012 season in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next Sunday against their NFC South rival the Carolina Panthers.
"The character, resolve and togetherness in the locker room is fun to be around on a daily basis," said Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Vitt. "This football team is weather tested and they stick together. They are fun to coach."
QB Drew Brees completed 37 of 53 throws for 446 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions (114.2 rating). Brees became the first player in NFL history to reach 4,500 yards in three consecutive seasons.
The Saints used a trio of running backs as major contributors to the offense. RB Mark Ingram carried 21 times for 53 yards and a touchdown. RB Darren Sproles rushed nine times for 48 yards while also adding 104 yards on seven catches. RB Pierre Thomas added 16 rushing yards on seven carries and recorded seven receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
WR Marques Colston caught ten passes for 153 yards, both the most by a Saints player against the Cowboys in team history. TE Jimmy Graham added 88 yards on seven receptions and WR Lance Moore hauled in four passes for 30 yards and a touchdown.
LB Curtis Lofton recorded five solo tackles and forced a fumble that he also recovered. CB Patrick Robinson led the team in tackles with eight stops (seven solo).
The Saints won the battle of possession as they held the ball for 41:59 of the contest. New Orleans racked up 562 total yards while picking up 33 first downs while Dallas was only able to move the chains 18 times.
After winning the coin toss and electing to receive, Brees and the Saints offense was able to orchestrate a ten-play, 80 yard drive to start the first quarter. Brees completed four of six passes for 52 yards with all of his completions going for more than ten yards and a first down. Ingram, who carried three times on the opening possession, finished the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. Hartley made the extra point to give the Saints a 7-0 advantage early in the first quarter.
The Cowboys' only drive of the first quarter was shut down by the Saints defense as DT Tom Johnson sacked QB Tony Romo with Dallas facing third down in New Orleans territory.
After another long drive, the Saints were unable to convert on third down to start the second quarter and were forced to attempt a field goal. Hartley missed a 36-yard field goal try and returned the ball to Romo and the Cowboys.
Romo found WR Dez Bryant on second down to move the chains and found Bryant again for a 58-yard touchdown pass on the next snap to cap off a three-play scoring drive. K Dan Bailey made the extra point to tie the game, 7-7.
After two holding penalties halted a Saints drive, the Cowboys were able to take the lead in the middle of the second quarter. Romo completed all three of his pass attempts for 76 yards and was able to find Bryant for another 58-yard touchdown pass. Bailey added the PAT to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
The Saints had another chance for points before the end of the first half as the New Orleans offense went 90 yards on 12 plays over 4:32. Brees was seven for nine passing on the drive while Colston caught three passes for 33 yards. Brees capped off the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Moore, who recorded his 60th reception of the season. Hartley made the extra point to tie the game at 14-14 with only one minute remaining in the first half.
On the drive, Brees became just the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 4,500 yards in three consecutive seasons. Colston was able to reach the 1,000 yard mark for the year for the sixth time in his seven seasons.
With the touchdown reception by Moore, the Saints became just the second team in NFL history to have four receivers with 60 or more catches in a season, behind just the 1990 Houston Oilers.
Receiving the ball with just over a minute left to play in the first half, the Cowboys looked to put more points on the board but were stopped by the Saints defense and punted the ball back to New Orleans.
Brees was able to find Sproles for a 44-yard gain through the air to set up a field goal attempt before halftime. Hartley made the 37-yard try and gave the Saints a 17-14 halftime lead.
The Cowboys opened the second half with the football and were able to gain three first downs to move into Saints territory. The New Orleans defense held strong before Dallas could reach the redzone and Bailey was forced to attempt a long field goal. Bailey put the 47-yard kick through the uprights to tie the game, 17-17, in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter, the Cowboys were backed up deep in their own territory after a punt by P Thomas Morstead left them with possession at the Dallas three-yard line. RB DeMarco Murray rushed for four yards but Lofton forced a fumble that he recovered at the Dallas five-yard line. Three plays later, Brees found Thomas for a five-yard touchdown pass. Hartley added the extra point to give the Saints a 24-17 that New Orleans would keep for the remainder of the quarter.
The Saints were able to increase their lead early in the fourth quarter as the black and gold went 98 yards on just nine plays. Brees found Colston for a 60-yard strike on the drive to move deep into Cowboys' territory before finishing off the drive with a three-yard touchdown pass to TE David Thomas. Hartley added the PAT to increase the lead to 31-17.
Romo was able to answer later in the fourth quarter following a Saints punt. Starting after a touchback, Romo completed four of five passes to lead the Cowboys 80 yards including a 41-yard strike to Bryant. Romo scored with a 16-yard touchdown pass WR Dwayne Harris and Bailey made the extra point to bring the game within a touchdown.
The Cowboys were given one more chance to tie the game after the two-minute warning. Romo completed four passes for 64 yards including a 19-yard touchdown pass to WR Miles Austin on fourth down with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. Bailey tied the game, 31-31, and sent the contest to overtime.
Dallas began the overtime period with the football but were stopped on just four plays and the Cowboys were forced to punt the ball back to New Orleans.
The Saints, faced with a chance to win the game, were able to move into Dallas territory as Brees found Graham on two throws for 33 yards. Then, on second down, Brees completed a pass to Colston who fumbled the football. Graham recovered the ball on the Dallas two-yard line and Hartley connected on a 20-yard field goal to give the Saints a 34-31 win in overtime.