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Cowboys hand Saints first loss

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The Dallas Cowboys spoiled New Orleans' bid for a perfect season with a 24-17 victory over the Saints on Saturday.

Marion Barber rushed for two touchdowns and Tony Romo stunned the playoff-bound Saints (13-1) with a long touchdown pass early in the game, as the Cowboys (9-5) stayed in the race for a post-season berth.

The result left the Indianapolis Colts (14-0) as the NFL's only unbeaten team this season.

"We knew coming in the significance of the game -- that they were undefeated and chasing history," Romo, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 312 yards, told reporters.

"So for us, this feels real, real good."

New Orleans staged a frenzied rally in the fourth quarter, scoring twice after trailing 24-3. But the Saints' bid for a tying touchdown ended on a fumble by quarterback Drew Brees after he was sacked at the Dallas 42 with seconds to play.

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER

The win pulled the Cowboys, who have had trouble winning in December in recent years, within a half-game of the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East lead.

"This gives us a chance to be the team we want to be," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "The guys gained a lot of confidence."

Romo connected with Miles Austin on a 49-yard scoring strike with the game less than four minutes old before Barber scored from the three-yard line six minutes later, giving the Cowboys a surprising 14-0 lead.

New Orleans, one of the league's top offensive teams, could manage only a field goal through three quarters of play and trailed 24-3 after Barber's second touchdown, a two-yard run.

Mike Bell finally got the Saints a touchdown on a one-yard run with 12:35 left in the game.

Brees, who completed 29 of 45 passes for 298 yards, had New Orleans back in the end zone four and a half minutes later on a seven-yard pass to Lance Moore.

But the bid for a tying touchdown ended when Dallas' DeMarcus Ware sacked Brees and forced a fumble.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford