Humble pie nourishes Cowboys' talent

HOUSTON -- We'll wait until the Dallas Cowboys are at least a .500 football team before cranking up the hype machine again.

But their performance in Sunday's 27-13 win over the previously unbeaten Houston Texans served as a reminder of the Cowboys' immense potential.

A desperate Dallas team displayed its arsenal of offensive weapons and proved it can finish drives. The Cowboys' defense kept the explosive Texans out of the end zone until garbage time and forced its first three turnovers of the season.

The Cowboys' complete effort provides evidence that a talented team that found ways to lose its first two games really could be a contender if the proper focus is in place.

"If we go like that through the season and carry it over, we'll have a great season," said cornerback Mike Jenkins, who ended the turnover drought with an interception. "But if we come out thinking we've already won something that we haven't, it's going to be a long season for us."

It took a couple of losses to nonplayoff teams for the Cowboys to realize that they had to do more than just show up to win. For some reason, a franchise coming off its first playoff win in a dozen years suffered from a severe case of swollen heads.

The Cowboys needed to be humbled, which happened as they bumbled their way through upset losses in the first two weeks.

You would think that a mistake-filled loss to the Washington Redskins, the NFC East's doormat in recent years, in the opener would have done the trick. But the Cowboys needed to follow that with a home loss to the Chicago Bears to realize how bad they can be if they prepare poorly.

"I'm glad that we got those losses out of the way early," nose tackle Jay Ratliff said. "We got that bad taste out of our mouth. We have something to build on. We don't want to go back there. We don't want to walk around practice at Valley Ranch all down, like it's been, everyone acting like it's the end of the world.

"This is a turning point for us."

It would have been the longest bye week in NFL history if the Cowboys would have left Reliant Stadium with an 0-3 record. Instead, they're a 1-2 team that realizes it has a ton of work to do. The easy part of the schedule is over, and the Cowboys screwed that up.

All the Cowboys have accomplished now is surviving September. That's a step.

"We're still in a position where we've got to keep grinding to get out of this," said quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 23 of 30 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns in a remarkably efficient performance. "We understand that."

The Cowboys' egos got bruised the first two weeks. That might have been the best thing that could have happened to them.

"Now we really have kind of taken the mentality that we have to go earn everything we get," tight end Jason Witten said. "You don't want to be 1-2, but I really feel good going into the break. I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture or anything, but I really feel like this team has the urgency and mentality it needs."

We got a glimpse of how good the Cowboys can be when they have a sense of urgency. We'll see whether they can sustain that.

"Oh, we will. We will," Ratliff said. "We're going to work our ass off to make sure that we do."

The Cowboys are all about business now. All it took was having their season on the brink of disaster in September.

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