Cowboys should thank Redskins for scare

They might have preferred that their victory Sunday against the Washington Redskins come a little bit easier than it did, but the Dallas Cowboys will be better off for the fact that it didn't. This was a well-timed wake-up call for a team that came in on a roll and was dreaming big dreams about keeping that roll going. And as they touched down in Dallas on Sunday night, the Cowboys should have felt relieved and re-focused.

I do not believe that the Cowboys took the Redskins lightly. They all said, all week, that weird things always happen in Washington, and that you can throw out the records in a rivalry such as that one. I'm sure the Cowboys expected the tough game they got. But had the Redskins not given them a fight, there was the chance for the Cowboys to start feeling too good about themselves. All of the hype about their soft upcoming schedule, how tough the Giants have it and this big opportunity Dallas has to seize control of the division -- that's the kind of stuff that can go to your head if you're not careful.

Instead, the Cowboys have all kinds of mistakes and flaws to review when they gather to watch film this week. They did a lot of things well, especially on offense. But they also did their share of things poorly, especially on defense. And with their next game coming up Thursday against the suddenly red-hot Dolphins, it's good that they'll be hearing it from their coaches a little bit. The last thing the Cowboys need right now is to forget about how hard it is to win games in the NFL.

Just look at these next couple of weeks. This was supposed to be the easy part of the Cowboys' schedule -- their chance to make up ground while the Giants went off and played all of those first-place teams. But all of a sudden, the Dolphins game doesn't look so easy. Three weeks ago, the Dolphins were 0-7 and there was talk of tanking the season for the top draft pick. Since, they're 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 86-20. They haven't just been a better team the past three weeks -- they've been one of the best teams in the league the past three weeks.

Next week is a trip to Arizona to play the Cardinals. And yeah, the Cardinals are 3-7 and using a John Skelton/Richard Bartel combination at quarterback. But they just went into Philadelphia last week and beat the Eagles -- a team that barely even noticed the Cowboys when they crushed them 34-7 on the night before Halloween.

The Cowboys haven't lost since that night, and they've surged into a first-place tie with the Giants atop the division. But they have a lot more work to do, and the key to making sure they do it is to take it all seriously. Dez Bryant must remain focused. Tony Romo must continue to be responsible with the ball. Anthony Spencer must maintain the intensity with which he's pursuing quarterbacks and ballcarriers all over the field. The offensive line must continue to jell and to open holes for DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys need to be thinking about the nitty-gritty, down-in-the-dirt stuff on which they've built their current three-game winning streak. That's the only way to stretch it to four, five, six games and more.

Had the Dolphins not crushed the Bills on Sunday, and had the Cowboys not come within a missed overtime field goal of losing to the Redskins, all the talk this week might have been about how easy the Cowboys have it going forward. And the last thing the Cowboys need right now is a bunch of people telling them how good they are. The fact is, they're good enough and have a ripe enough opportunity to win this division and maybe make a playoff run. Their problem would be if they started to think they didn't have to work hard for it.

After what the Redskins nearly did to them Sunday, there would seem now to be little danger of that.