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Playoff spot sealed, Cowboys eye division title

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IRVING, Texas (AP)

Some say it came from a team meeting called by Keith Brooking, who says it was a talk from Daryl Johnston. Others credit a passionate speech from third-string running back Tashard Choice.

Whatever the source of their inspiration, something has turned around the Dallas Cowboys.

Since opening December with consecutive losses and being written off by most people outside their locker room, the Cowboys have ripped off an impressive string of wins - ending the Saints' bid for a perfect season on a loud Saturday night in the Superdome, then going to Washington and shutting out their bitter division rival to clinch a playoff spot.

Which spot will be decided Sunday at Home. The Cowboys can win the NFC East and secure a playoff game at their new $1.2 billion stadium by keeping their roll going and beating the Philadelphia Eagles.

``Our main goal this year was to finish strong and to finish together,'' cornerback Mike Jenkins said Monday. ``We're doing it.''

Jenkins said that solidarity started with a players-only meeting held the day after a loss to San Diego that most outsiders thought would doom this club.

``Everybody had a chance to say what was on their minds and what was in their hearts,'' he said. ``It helped a lot, I mean, just showing that a lot of guys really have respect for each other. That Wednesday when we came back, that practice was magnificent. ... Against the Saints, we put it all on the field. Against the Redskins, we did the same thing.''

However, defensive tackle Marcus Spears gave a different version.

``T-Choice was the only one that talked,'' Spears said. ``He felt like it was important enough for the team to know what he had on his mind and we listened. We all left the meeting room and went about our business. But what he said was important and we needed to hear that.''

Another important message came from Johnston, the hard-nosed fullback on the Dallas teams that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s.

According to Brooking, Johnston spoke at a team meeting and told the club that ``seven days to humility'' was a motto his Cowboys teams used to keep themselves grounded when they were piling up wins. Several players have dropped that line into comments since he spoke, a clear indication his message got through to them.

``When guys who have had a lot of experience in this league, both in a positive way and in a negative way, you can lean on those guys for advice, for maybe a little bit of a spark, maybe to put things in perspective (about) what we have here, the opportunities we have in front of us,'' Brooking said. ``Just know you can't lay your head down at night and have regrets. You've got to lay it on the line because you'll never know when you're going to be in another position to do the things we can possibly do.''

It's something they've all heard before. The same is probably true for whatever Choice said. Maybe it was who said it, how it was said or when - but it's obviously helped them click at the right time.

``I think when you have those types of meetings, it can put perspective on things for some of the young guys,'' Brooking said. ``It's not for a lack of will or want to, it's ignorance; they don't really know what it's about. You can shed some light for them and really help them out.''

Coach Wade Phillips referred to this club as good listeners. He also said they're handling pressure well because they've had plenty of experience with pressure this season, citing their herky-jerky 3-2 start that included alternating wins and losses and an ugly overtime victory in Kansas City, and the fact his job was widely considered in jeopardy before these consecutive victories.

``We've pretty much, throughout this whole season, kept it in-house, kept our goals in front of us and not really let stumbles in the road or roadblocks deter us,'' Spears said. ``It's just a positive thing. It's a positive vibe going on. Winning is the cure-all for everything.''

Tagged: Cowboys, Keith Brooking, Marcus Spears, Marcus Spears, Tashard Choice

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