The New Orleans Saints have a very long shot at a wildcard berth in the playoffs, but beating Dallas tonight would sure brighten their holidays and might even keep the faint flicker of a dream alive.

"We're not out of it," coach Jim Mora said. "We're 6-8 and it's not likely, but don't rule us out until we're dead. We won't."Staying alive past Monday night, Mora acknowledges, will take an outstanding effort, even for a team that has come alive over the past six weeks. After all, the Cowboys are the two-time defending Super Bowl champions and are 11-3 this season, having clinched the NFC East title.

The Saints have won four of their last seven games, including the last two. It's the first time in 25 games they've managed to put together consecutive victories. Mora said after each that his team played its best overall game of the season.

Dallas, coming off a 19-14 upset by Cleveland, has lost only two games in December since 1991 and has clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs and the home-field edge in a divisional game. San Francisco has clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.