NEW ORLEANS - No Reggie? No Deuce?

No sweat for Drew Brees, whose decisions and accuracy are turning role players into menacing threats at a crucial juncture in the season for the New Orleans Saints.

Brees connected on 86.7 percent of his throws for 315 yards and two touchdowns, keeping the Saints' playoff hopes alive in a 31-24 triumph over the Arizona Cardinals yesterday afternoon.

"We're really getting the best out of ourselves right now," said Brees, who completed 26 of 30 passes to three receivers, a tight end, and three running backs. "This is the time to come together."

With a loss severely crippling playoff hopes for either team, the game was a high-anxiety affair.

Fumbles by each team set up opponents' scores. Roman Harper's interception of Kurt Warner's tipped pass set up another Saints touchdown.

The victory guaranteed New Orleans (7-7) would remain no worse than one game out of the wild-card race behind Minnesota (7-6), which plays tonight vs. Chicago.

Arizona (6-8), meanwhile, has little hope of a postseason berth after its second straight loss.

"It was just too many mistakes for us today," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

New Orleans is increasingly confident after winning two straight without running backs Deuce McAllister, who went out for the season in Week 3, and Reggie Bush, who missed his second game with a partially torn left knee ligament.

In the absence of the two star runners, journeyman Aaron Stecker has stepped in effectively while Marques Colston continues to develop into one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers in his second season out of Hofstra.

"Just having him come out in the rhythm he was in," Colston said of Brees, "and how hot he was definitely led to a lot of big plays."

One week after becoming the first Saints player to rush for 100 yards this season, Stecker finished with 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns to go with 46 yards receiving against Arizona.

Colston caught a 19-yard touchdown as part of an eight-catch, 114-yard performance that put him over the 1,000-yard receiving mark in each of his first two seasons.