Cowboys deliver through messages

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys players arrived at their Valley Ranch practice facility Monday afternoon and read a message taped to a beam outside the locker room. It read, "7 Days to Humility."

For the past month, messages from players and coaches have been part of what's helped this Cowboys team reach its current situation.

Next Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys, who already have a playoff spot secured, can win the NFC East with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Monday, Cowboys officials wanted their players to remember what happened at the end of last season as a slight hint to what they don't want to see again: a 44-6 road loss at Philadelphia in the regular-season finale, which spoiled the Cowboys' chances of reaching the playoffs. In other words, the loss embarrassed them.

This time, the Cowboys are in the postseason and can attain even more, and the players better not forget it.

"I think we got humbled last year, like back-to-back weeks," wide receiver Patrick Crayton said, remembering consecutive losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia to close the regular season. "We had the opportunity to be in the same situation and control our own destiny, so I don't think it should take seven days. It should already be here. I don't know what the purpose is of counting down seven days, it's here now. Forget a week, it's here now. That's how we should look at it."

The Cowboys might say their season changed in an overtime victory at the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 11, but a team meeting after the Dec. 13 loss to the San Diego Chargers opened the players' eyes again.

Dallas was 0-2 in December after the loss to the Chargers and held an 8-5 record overall. That Monday, after the coaches spoke to the team, second-year running back Tashard Choice called for a players-only meeting.

Choice, who wasn't available for comment Monday, was the only player to speak in the meeting about a potential opportunity that was about to be lost.

"A lot of guys were kind of quiet, because they didn't expect it to come from Tashard, being so young," cornerback Mike Jenkins said of Choice, who is 25. "We definitely fed off that. We had a big talk that week and we came back, and that was the week we played the Saints."

The Cowboys headed off to face the undefeated New Orleans Saints that weekend. Before the game, special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis showed a tape of former NFL coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy not giving the Cowboys any chance of beating the Saints.

Result: Dallas, 24, New Orleans 17.

Then on the morning of Sunday night's game against the Washington Redskins, coach Wade Phillips told his team in a brief team meeting the Cowboys were playing for a championship.

Result: Dallas 17, Washington 0.

It's about messages.

What could be seen as small or insignificant has made an impact the last few weeks, especially now for this Cowboys team that is playing for so much.

"Some guys had some stuff on their minds," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "We've kind of done away with the rah-rah stuff. Just playing ball, it isn't really nothing you need to say other than you need to win games."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.