Not only do the 1990 Dallas Cowboys bear no resemblance to their hapless one-victory predecessors of a year ago, they are suddenly chasing an NFC wild-card playoff berth.
"We're not just trying to have a break-even year," quarterback Troy Aikman said. "We're looking to win the rest of our games. Our goal is 9-7."Rookie Emmitt Smith rushed 23 times for 132 yards and scored two touchdowns Thursday as the Cowboys defeated the Washington Redskins 27-17 for their first back-to-back victories since 1987.
Dallas increased its record to 5-7, best since the team won seven three years ago. Washington, which has lost all four of its Thanksgiving games against the Cowboys, dropped to 6-5.
Both teams are chasing the three NFC wild-card berths.
Philadelphia is 6-6 and Green Bay 5-5 with the only NFC records (excepting the division leaders) better than the Cowboys.
Coach Jimmy Johnson said the Cowboys aren't going to make the mistake of thinking playoffs. In fact, he ordered conditioning work for the team today.
"We want to stay close to our routine," Johnson said. "We'll let them off over the weekend. I think we're going to continue to improve."
Johnson said he knows Smith is improving.
"What can you say about Emmitt Smith?" Johnson said. "He's going to be a great player in the NFL."
Washington cornerback Martin Mayhew said Smith "is the best back we've faced this year. The turf was slippery and it affected everyone's play except his."
Smith said he wants to become more of a force in the Dallas offense.
"I got the ball in my hands enough today and I'm satisfied," he said. "I know this, winning two in a row, is really going to help the confidence of this team. It's the first time in a long time."
Washington coach Joe Gibbs said Smith "is a very, very good back. We also missed some tackles, too, that helped him out."
Dallas had lost four straight games on Thanksgiving Day. It's now 15-7-1 on the holiday.
Gibbs said Dallas is becoming a force under Johnson."You can see Dallas coming on in leaps and bounds," Gibbs said.
Johnson wouldn't declare the victory extra special.
"All victories count the same," he said. "But I'm extremely proud. We've gone through some difficult times. "
Smith scored on runs of 1 and 48 yards.
"That last run just killed us," Washington linebacker Wilbur Marshall said.
"Smith is phenomenal, no question," Aikman said. "He doesn't have great speed but he's tremendously quick."
Washington's Mark Rypien hit 26 of 54 passes for 267 yards and a 6-yard scoring pass to Ricky Sanders, but the Redskins were held to only 36 yards rushing, their lowest total of the year.
Aikman finished 20 of 31 for 222 yards and a 12-yard scoring pass to Michael Irvin.
"We beat a very good football team," Johnson said. "We just wanted to get the football to Emmitt today."
Irvin said it was the sweetest victory yet.
"I've been here three years and this is the victory of all victories," Irvin said. "They scored 17 straight points and we could have folded. But we wanted to win two in a row, win a division game and win on Thanksgiving. We did all three."