The Redskins are 2-0 and their spirits are high, so don't ruin the mood by talking about the Dallas Cowboys, even if the season-opener is only 2 1/2 weeks away.

"That's a mistake we made last year, putting too much emphasis on the Cowboys," free safety Mark Murphy said. "We became obsessed with that game, with that team. The better we played in the preseason, the more we thought we could beat them. This year, we aren't getting cocky. And no one is even mentioning Dallas yet."

Nor is anyone ready to predict how good this Redskin team can be. There are too many questions to be answered, too many players to be cut. A year ago, no such doubts clouded the outlook.

The Redskins were 2-0 in preseason last summer and growing more confident daily. So what if John Riggins was in Kansas? Talk about a trip to the Super Bowl and the first-game showdown with the Cowboys on Monday night television consumed this camp and everyone in it. Even squad cuts were predicated in part by the Dallas matchup, which added to the strain between Coach Jack Pardee and General Manager Bobby Beathard.

The game with Tom Landry's team was even more special because of what had happened the year before, when the Redskins had lost the final, controversial game to the Cowboys to miss out on a playoff berth.

"It got so that when we took the field against them, I honestly think we thought they would be scared of us," Murphy said. "That's how confident we were. Even though we lost our last exhibition game, we hadn't changed our thinking. We thought we were almost invincible."

The Redskins proved far from invincible to Dallas, or to many other teams as the season went on. But losing to the Cowboys, 17-3, was the low point.

"Guess you can see what happened to us when we lost that game," said Mike Nelms with a little grin. "You look around now and you see almost a new team with a new staff. That'll prove what it means to put too much emphasis on one game."

The Redskins haven't had much time to think about Dallas, not with everything else that has happened this summer. This is a team still in search of an identity. Until the roster is set, the injuries heal and everyone becomes more comfortable with Joe Gibbs' system, it is difficult to concentrate on outside concerns, even the Cowboys.

"I think it's good for us to be 2-0," said linebacker Brad Dusek, "although there are enough veterans here to remind the young guys that winning in preseason and winning in the regular season is a whole lot different.

"This team needs to win. Everyone profits from it, including the fans. I'm impressed by what's happened. People are hustling and people are starting to believe in what's going on."

Gibbs is convinced that a remade team such as the Redskins needs to be successful in the preseason to gain confidence. Murphy is convinced winning has helped the players believe in Gibbs.

"By winning, it shows you what you practice and what you talk about in meetings will pay off on the field," he said. "All this is helping to sell the system . . . We're getting a taste of what winning means again. But it would be wrong for anyone to read too much into what we've done. The players know that."

Terry Metcalf says the two wins are a logical extension "of what has been going on in camp. You've got a coach who is trying to prove something and players who are trying to prove they can play. You're going to get better performances that way. Everyone is going to be more fired up than on a more settled team."

Gibbs acknowledges he may be a bit paranoid about whether the club's fast start is giving a misleading picture of its ability. And he hopes he's not getting too fancy too early, especially on offense. Nor does he want his players to start ordering Super Bowl rings.

But if Nelms is right, Gibbs has little need to fret.

"I don't see anyone walking around too confident," he said. "We're enjoying what is happening. I would think every defensive player is really glad to see the way the offense is going after people. That's going to help us in the long run.

"But they have been honest with us so far. You can't fool players. You can't say you can go out and kill another team and then forget to talk about some 6-7, 300-pound giant that's been walking over everyone. We're going to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, what's going on?'

"So far, they've come in and told us both the strengths and weaknesses of the team we're playing and our strengths and weaknesses. They haven't tried to hide anything."

Besides, said quarterback Joe Theismann, "it would be foolish to work on something six or seven weeks and never try it in a preseason game, then all of a sudden expect it to work in the season-opener . . . There are a lot of things we haven't done yet. You're just getting a taste of this team's offensive personality.

"I'm using the preseason to help evaluate my own play."

The Redskins' timetable eventually ends with the Cowboy game. Of the 60 players still left on the roster, only 29 were on the opening-day squad last year. Of the 10 current Redskin coaches, only one (Richie Petitbon) remains from last season, and only two others (Torgy Torgeson and Bill Hickman) have ever been part of a Washington-Dallas game.

"There aren't that many of us around who know what a Dallas game really is like in this town," Theismann said. "Let 'em enjoy what's happening right now. Pretty soon, we'll be hearing all we can handle about the Cowboys. And when they start talking about Dallas, I think we'll be finally ready to listen."