WASHINGTON (AP) As his Washington Redskins enter a critical stretch in their pursuit of a playoff berth, coach Jay Gruden made clear how he feels about a schedule that takes his team to Dallas on Thanksgiving Day right after a Sunday night game.
''I don't think it's really fair, no,'' Gruden said Monday on a conference call with reporters, ''but we have to deal with it. We knew this was coming. ... The biggest thing is you worry about the health of your football team. This is a physical football game we played last night, and we're at the point in the year where guys are a little bit beat up.''
Thanks to winning six of their past eight games, the Redskins (6-3-1) are off to their best beginning to a season in two decades. Still, they know that what they've done so far to erase an 0-2 start won't mean much if they don't keep winning, starting Thursday at the NFC East-leading Cowboys (9-1).
''Any time you can win, it's always a plus, but we know that we still got bigger fish to fry, so winning right now is crucial,'' said Jamison Crowder, who caught three passes from Kirk Cousins for 102 yards, including a TD that went for 44 in Washington's 42-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
''You know, we have to keep winning, so it's big to get this one,'' Crowder said. ''Now we're looking forward to Dallas.''
Not since 1996 had the Redskins lost only three of their initial 10 games, but they followed that 7-3 start by losing four of their last six to end up 9-7 and third in the division, out of the playoffs.
To avoid that sort of a collapse this time, Washington needs to first get through a three-game road swing that includes trips to Arizona on Dec. 4, and Philadelphia on Dec. 11.
After getting a chance for treatment and rest Monday, Redskins players will hold two walkthroughs instead of full-fledged practices on Tuesday, and another walkthrough before flying to Texas on Wednesday.
''We're feeling good, but at the same time it's a short week, and we're playing one of the best teams in the NFL on Thursday,'' said Cousins, who threw for 375 yards, three TDs and zero interceptions against Green Bay, another strong performance as he hopes to earn a long-term contract. ''Welcome to the NFL. They don't get any easier from here.''
With Cousins finally getting a chance to be the starting quarterback after biding his time behind Robert Griffin III, the Redskins won the NFC East a year ago. Now they take on the first-place Cowboys, who have won nine in a row behind a pair of rookie sensations, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
And while Gruden said he can take some solace from knowing the short turnaround comes against a familiar foe, he added: ''The bad thing is we know how good they are.''
After all, Dallas' current winning streak began in Week 2, when it came back to win 27-23 at Washington.
''For us to keep pace in the division and have a chance at the division title,'' Gruden said, ''we've got to play our best game Thursday.''
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich