IRVING,TEXAS — IRVING, Texas -- Just a week ago, the Dallas Cowboys appeared to be a team going nowhere.
They were 3-7 and their top two offensive players, quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith, were complaining about the offense.
Aikman wanted to open it and Smith wanted the ball more.
Suddenly, the Cowboys appeared to have solved all of their problems. They have scored 51 points in victories over the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins in a five-day span.
Smith got the ball 23 times and ran for 132 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown burst in a 27-17 victory over the Washington Redskins yesterday.
"There is no question that our confidence level is probably up quite a bit," Smith said.
How high is up?
Aikman was even being asked questions about the playoffs after the game.
With games coming against the New Orleans Saints and the Phoenix Cardinals wrapped around an open date, the Cowboys could be 7-7 and alive after 14 games.
"I still believe at this point it's too early for us to start worrying about the playoffs," Aikman said. "I think we have to take one game at a time and if we can do that, we'll see what happens at the end of 16 games."
One of the things they have going for them is Aikman's quarterbacking. In just his second season, he's coming into his own.
Washington coach Joe Gibbs said, "He's trouble. I think he's going to be a great football player."
"He's on his way," cornerback Darrell Green said. "I said it before the game. Heisman Trophy, top candidate, they knew what they were doing. They made the right choice [top pick a year ago]. He's heading that way. You can't deny guys like that. A John Elway, a [Dan] Marino. God gave him a certain talent and they're doing to do it."
Aikman gave a lot of credit to his offensive line, although he often got passes off when the Redskins were hanging on him.
"I think they have gotten some continuity," he said. "A lot of people don't realize how important it is to play with someone you are familiar with. This group has now been together a few weeks and they have gotten better each week. They went out today and did an outstanding job."
* Center John Gesek, who helped spring Smith loose on his 48-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, said: "It was just an inside running play that was designed to go right. Mark Stepnoski and I doubled-teamed them off the ball and the strong safety [Alvin Walton] was playing up. Emmitt made all the right cuts and then did the rest on his own."
Green one of the fastest players in the league, caught him from behind at about the 25, but Smith shook him off.
"I missed the tackle," Green said.
* One of the best duels of the game was between Green and Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin.
Both Irvin and Green seemed happy with the way they played. Irvin caught three passes for 30 yards and a 12-yard touchdown, but Green said only one of the catches was against him. He said the other two were in zone coverage.
"It does a great deal for my confidence," Irvin said. "Coming back off knee surgery, the Redskins put one of the best cover men in the NFL and said, 'Run with him everywhere.' So that tells me what they think of me, and that feels good.
"I've been here three years, and this is the victory of all victories. They scored 17 straight points and we could have folded. I think a lot of people probably said, 'Oh, they are going to fold.' But we showed character."
Green said: "He caught one ball on me, a quick slant. That was really it. On the touchdown, it wasn't my man. As a cornerback, I won, and I don't say that in pride. But they won the game. I can live with that. I wish we could have won. By no means do I feel or think or imagine that I lost the game for us."
* Wilber Marshall was another Redskin who liked the way he played.
"I think I got one play my side all night. They consistently went away from me," he said.
* Defensive lineman Charles Mann said the Redskins were guilty of poor tackling.
"Emmitt Smith is a great back," Mann said. "You can't take anything away from him. But we can play the run a lot better than we did today. We'd have him down, seemingly have him down and he'd squirt out of there for another 8 or 10 yards. On the play that he broke for 45, 50 yard, whatever it was , there were six or seven guys right there. Everybody dives out instead of running through the ball. You lunge and when you lunge, you arm tackle. When you arm tackle, you don't get anybody down."
* The Cowboys seem to be starting to win their fans back. They have drawn more than 60,000 fans in five straight games, the first time they've done that since 1983.
The game attracted a sellout crowd of 60,355, although it wasn't sold out early enough to lift the local blackout.
* The Redskins had only two players on their injury report -- wide receiver Ricky Sanders (ankle) and linebacker Greg Manusky (thigh).