LANDOVER -- Washington Redskins defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield stared up at the scoreboard and bit his upper lip. Defensive end Marco Coleman sat slumped on the bench, draping a towel over his face.
And defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson ran off the field with a scowl, fuming over the breakdowns, the lack of aggressiveness as well as the Redskins' futility against playoff-caliber teams.
Just when their season started to get tough, the Redskins cowered with a soft and listless defensive effort, bowing to the Buffalo Bills, 34-17, in front of 78,721 at Redskins Stadium yesterday.
The Redskins (5-3), who now fall into a first-place tie with the New York Giants in the NFC East, closed out the first half of the season amid loud boos in the second half and lingering doubts about their toughness, as their two-year record against teams with winning records dropped to 1-10.
The Bills (6-3) made it look too easy when they scored on five of their first six series, building a 31-10 lead by the end of the third quarter.
"They came out and had their way with us," Wilkinson said. "It's a big loss to come out and play so lousy. It doesn't make any sense. It's embarrassing."
Owner of the NFL's most porous defense, Washington appeared more clueless than usual, giving up 413 yards to a struggling Buffalo offense.
The Redskins stressed all week about containing Bills quarterback Doug Flutie. But he still sustained Buffalo's first four scoring drives by scrambling for first downs.
The Redskins talked about the importance of bottling up the Bills' running game. But Jonathan Linton and Antowain Smith roughed up Washington's front seven with little finesse, running behind fullback Sam Gash or a pulling guard to roll up 204 yards rushing -- the fourth-highest total in club history.
"We were at the top of our division," linebacker Shawn Barber said. "We were looking at it as if we didn't have to scratch and claw. I think that was the attitude some guys had."
The Redskins only need to rewind the tape to the end of the first half to pinpoint their emotional tailspin.
With the score tied at 10, the Bills moved to Washington's 23, where they faced fourth-and-five, and put the ball in the hands of Flutie. With his receivers covered, Flutie eluded Stubblefield in the backfield with a stutter step and dashed 8 yards upfield for the first down.
Buffalo called the same running play, which has its tailback follow Gash to the left side, five straight times. Daring Stubblefield or middle linebacker Derek Smith to clog up the hole, the Bills capped the 11-play drive with a 1-yard run by Smith, who strolled into the end zone standing to give Buffalo a 17-10 lead with 18 seconds left before halftime.
Flutie again set up a touchdown midway in the third quarter, when he faked out defensive end Kenard Lang and raced 14 yards to the Redskins' 10. On the next play, Smith scored his second touchdown of the game, running through an arm tackle by safety Matt Stevens to increase the Bills' margin to 24-10 with 6: 50 remaining in the third.
Flutie, who was 16-for-22 for 211 yards passing, ended the quarter with a 14-yard scoring toss to Eric Moulds, pushing Buffalo to its biggest advantage at 31-10.
Still, the 5-foot-10 quarterback had his greatest impact on the ground, carrying the ball five times for 40 yards, 7 more than Washington running back Stephen Davis, the league's leading rusher. Flutie's first three scrambles converted two third downs and one fourth down.
"It's disappointing because we worked hard on containing him," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "We had guys in position, but we weren't able to tackle him. At times, I looked out there and said: Shoot, maybe we coached it too hard because we looked like we were frozen. We were waiting for him to make a decision and it was too late."
Buffalo stifled the NFL's top-scoring attack, holding the Redskins to half of their 35-point scoring average as well as their season-low point total. It was a simple defensive strategy: The Redskins can't score if they don't have the ball.
The Bills implemented a ball-control game plan of throwing high-percentage, short passes and running the ball up the middle. Buffalo had 49 rushing plays -- three fewer than the total plays the Redskins ran the entire game -- to maintain possession for 41 of the game's 60 minutes. In fact, the Bills were on offense for 33 1/2 of the final 45 minutes.
That's why it took the Redskins, who scored on their first series, until the middle of the fourth quarter to reach the end zone again. Still, the offense wasn't about the shoulder the blame for this loss.
"Well, for one thing, we were on the bench for most of the game," right guard Tre' Johnson said.
Said receiver Michael Westbrook: "We have a great offense, but I was sitting over there freezing. It was a bad day for Redskins football."
NOTES: Matt Turk made a poor return yesterday, punting twice for an average of 30.5 points. A former three-time Pro Bowl performer, he was sidelined the past two weeks with a broken finger and lower-back spasms. "It was disappointing the way he punted," Turner said. "We have to get him punting the way he's capable of punting." Left guard Keith Sims, who sprained his right knee three minutes into the third quarter and did not return, is scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging today. Defense Secretary William Cohen performed the coin toss. Buffalo has won 10 straight regular-season games vs. NFC East teams.