By Stephen Hawkins
The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys figure their situation hasn’t really changed, even though their comeback came up short in an overtime loss.
They still have to win their season finale on the road against an NFC East rival — something they have failed to do twice in the past four seasons — to have a chance to get into the playoffs.
“The optimism will start probably 24 hours from now,” Romo said minutes after a 34-31 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints. “Right now, it’s tough thing to think about.”
Romo threw two of his four touchdowns in the final 3:35 of regulation, including a 19-yarder to Miles Austin with 15 seconds left.
But Dallas (8-7) stalled after gaining only 16 yards it only possession in overtime.
The Saints (7-8), whose playoff fate was finally sealed despite the victory, got a game-ending 20-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley on the play after Marcus Colston caught a pass, was stripped and the ball rolled more than 20 yards and was recovered by New Orleans at the 2.
The Cowboys, who had won three in a row, had control of their own playoff destiny before losing to the Saints.
“It is disappointing, but most anything that we were coming up with, we had to win the Washington game next weekend,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “But that’s not to say, as you saw, that we didn’t do everything we could possibly to win this ball game. But we just have to see how it sorts out.”
Dallas has to win next week at Washington (9-6), which beat Philadelphia 27-20. The Redskins have won six in a row, including a 38-31 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.
The NFC East title last season, and the NFC’s final playoff spot, was determined on New Year’s night when the Cowboys lost 31-14 at New York. The Giants finished the regular season 9-7, then went on to win their second Super Bowl title in five seasons.
With a playoff spot on the line in their 2008 finale, the Cowboys lost 44-6 at Philadelphia.
“You want to control what you can control. When you are in this situation, you have to go forth like you are playing for a playoff spot,” defensive tackle Marcus Spears said. “Trying to determine what will happen, all of that will get in the way of us preparing for the Redskins, and that is what needs to be our central focus right now.”
Playing near the home of suspended Saints coach Sean Payton, Drew Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns.
The Saints all but secured the win when Colston’s fumble was recovered by Jimmy Graham recovered despite a couple of defenders being in the area.
“It hurts. You scratch and claw the whole game,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “It’s comes down a play like that. It’s kind of frustrating.”
The Saints who started 0-4 after getting stunned by Payton’s yearlong ban in the team’s bounty scandal, saw their playoff hopes end with Minnesota’s victory against Houston.
After New Orleans forced a punt in overtime, Brees moved the Saints to the Cowboys 33. He completed a pass to Colston, who took a couple of steps before Morris Claiborne stripped the ball, sending it rolling toward the end zone.
The completion was held up on review after Graham won a scrum, and Hartley made the winning kick on the next play.
“I got it out, but they recovered it. I wish it wouldn’t have come out,” Claiborne said. “I was just trying to make a play. Going to the ground, I didn’t even know the ball was out. I was just praying it was incomplete.”
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.
Romo also had a pair of 58-yard scoring passes to Dez Bryant, who had a career-high 224 yards receiving on nine catches
Dallas tight end Jason Witten had two catches in overtime, breaking Tony Gonzalez’s NFL season record of 102 catches for a tight end set in 2004. Witten has 103.
But all that and Romo’s fourth career 400-yard passing game (26 of 43 for 416 yards) weren’t enough.
“It’s just a very empty feeling,” Romo said.
NOTES: Bryant tied a franchise record with a touchdown catch in his seventh consecutive game, and he matched his career high of 145 yards receiving before halftime. ... Romo has three of his 400-yard passing games this season — all Cowboys losses. ... The Cowboys played their third overtime game their past five home games. Before that, they had never played an OT game at Cowboys Stadium, which opened in 2009.
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