Playoff spot sealed, Cowboys eye division title

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.”