Commentary

Cowboys buy into Phillips' approach

Players respond to coach's message with 17-0 shutout of Redskins, playoff berth

Updated: December 28, 2009, 2:07 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- Sunday morning at the team hotel, Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips had a simple message for his team:

"You're playing for the world championship today, men," Phillips told his players. "I hope you know that. I know that."

With that, Phillips walked out of the meeting.

His players responded Sunday night by knocking off the inept Washington Redskins 17-0 at FedEx Field.

"He just had his points that he wanted to make," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "He has a lot of creditability with our team, and I want our fans to know that."

The victory clinched a playoff berth for the Cowboys, who will have even more to play for next week.

If Dallas beats the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium, it will win the NFC East and secure a first-round home playoff game.

Should the Minnesota Vikings lose their next two games to go along with a Dallas win, the Cowboys will vault to the No. 2 seed.

And to think people wanted to kick Phillips out of town just a few weeks ago.

Phillips has his team buying into his one-week-at-a-time mantra, and Jones wants to keep him around long-term.

"I do not want to make a coaching change," Jones said after the win over the Redskins.

This might be a good thing for the Cowboys. After four years of Bill Parcells' grinding style, Phillips arrived with his own approach.

He will protect players in public but chew them out behind closed doors for mistakes. The only real public display of anger we've seen from Phillips came in his first year with the Cowboys, when he yelled at the team because a few players were late for a special teams walk-through.

Phillips is not one to air his dirty laundry in public. He doesn't send messages to players through the media. If he has a message to deliver, he'll find the player and tell him himself.

Phillips, however, is defensive about his December record -- which is now 5-7 in Dallas -- and he presents his case to reporters who question whether he's a winner.

Phillips has told his team the entire year that they are in fact a bunch of winners, and if nobody believed them, forget them. The message on Sunday morning was another example of Phillips telling his players to consider what they can accomplish and not lose sight of the goal.

Guard Leonard Davis said he's never had a coach tell him a regular-season game was like a championship game, but he got the message.

"I didn't question it," he said. "It's been that way the whole time."

Tight end Jason Witten said Phillips has been making his moves toward a moment like this all year.

"He just meant you have to take it one game at a time, and he has the ability to put it out there and let us know where we're at and what we're playing for," Witten said. "He's always built it up. The later you go [in the season], the game gets bigger. He does a good job of being that same guy and [putting] some perspective on it."

The man who signs the checks in Valley Ranch was so happy about Phillips and his staff that he turned away from reporters when he saw offensive line coach Hudson Houck.

"Hey Hud, good win," Jones said.

"Damn good win," Houck said.

With that, Jones kissed Houck on the forehead.

Imagine what Jones will do if he wins the NFC East title.

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

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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