Drew 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 took the Cowboys' playoff fate out of their hands with a 34-31 overtime victory on Sunday.
The Cowboys (8-7) regained control of their postseason hopes when the New York Giantslost at Baltimore later Sunday. Dallas will make the playoffs as the NFC East champion with a victory at Washington next weekend. A wild-card spot is no longer a possibility for the Cowboys.
That game has been flexed to prime time by the NFL.
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.
"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 Dallas' 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.' "
Referee Walt Coleman confirmed the call on replay.
"He had two feet down, had possession of the ball and turned up field and got hit as his third step was coming down," Coleman said to a pool reporter. "He had possession and time enough to do something with the football -- a football move."
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he believed it was a catch and fumble.
Said Coleman, "He doesn't have to tuck it. So long as he has possession of it and moving it from one and to the other, he doesn't have to tuck it away. He just has to have possession of the ball to be able to do something with it, like a normal football act. But he doesn't have to tuck it against his body."