Redskins' road gets tougher against Bills

Washington starts streak of 4 of 5 away from FedEx

NFL Week 7

October 19, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins have made road games their own version of the Rubik's Cube, the SATs and brain surgery all wrapped into one.

The Redskins went 2-6 on the road last season and haven't enjoyed a winning record away from Washington since their 1991 Super Bowl season.

Today's 4:15 game between the Redskins (3-3) and the Buffalo Bills (3-3) at Ralph Wilson Stadium marks the beginning of a five-game stretch during which Washington will play four away from FedEx Field.

The immediacy of a victory -- particularly as the Redskins seek to rebound from two consecutive losses -- is not lost on the players.

"We're coming to a crossroads," said defensive end Renaldo Wynn, taking note of the team's bye next week. "It'll make or break you because you always want to have a positive to look forward to when you go to a bye week and come out of that bye week rejuvenated. ... The odds are stacked against us. We're going into a hostile environment up in Buffalo, but if we get a win up there, it can turn this whole thing around."

Added linebacker LaVar Arrington: "We don't want to get too far in the hole where we have to win eight in a row. ... I think [today's game] is a must-win."

Of Washington's next five opponents, only the Bills do not boast a winning record. The Dallas Cowboys, the Seattle Seahawks (at FedEx), the Carolina Panthers and the Miami Dolphins are a combined 17-3 and lead their respective divisions.

In some ways, the Bills and Redskins have embarked on the same path.

Like Washington, Buffalo began the season with two consecutive wins and became the media darling of the young season.

With the Pro Bowl trio of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, running back Travis Henry and wide receiver Eric Moulds, Buffalo's offense ranked second in the NFL in scoring and ninth in total yards after two weeks.

Similarly, a defense anchored by defensive tackle Sam Adams, linebacker Takeo Spikes and strong safety Lawyer Milloy allowed the second-fewest points in the AFC and was ranked eighth in yards surrendered.

That, however, changed over the next four games. Henry and Moulds got injured, and opponents began pounding the Bills' defense with the run.

The offense has slipped to last in the NFL, while the defense has actually climbed two spots to No. 6.

Buffalo coach Gregg Williams attributed much of the decline to the players' tendencies to overextend themselves on certain plays.

"We're trying to maybe do too much," said Williams, whose three-year tenure in Buffalo has reportedly become a hot topic. "Earlier in the year, I said we're probably not as good as a 31-0 team when we won the opener [against the New England Patriots] and we know we're not as bad as a 30-3 loss in this last ballgame [against the New York Jets]. We're somewhere in between."

That could describe the Redskins, too. After winning the first two games, Washington boasted the No. 3 offense and the No. 2 defense. But three losses in the past four games have dropped the offense and defense to No. 12 and No. 15, respectively.

Amid much discussion about pass protection -- Redskins quarterbacks have been sacked a league-worst 23 times -- and defensive gambles, Washington's most significant challenge today will be overcoming the absences of cornerback Fred Smoot (fractured sternum), running back Trung Canidate (high ankle sprain), left guard Dave Fiore (sore right knee) and possibly defensive tackle Jermaine Haley (fractured right thumb).

"We've got a few [injuries], but we've got plenty of players that are ready to step in there," coach Steve Spurrier said. "It would certainly help us to get this game and be in decent shape within our division. ... We're not the only team struggling out there, but still, it's a crucial game for us."

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Bledsoe and 300

Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe is 22-12 in games in which he passes for 300 or more yards. The Redskins defense was dissected by Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson last week and will need a strong effort to keep Bledsoe under wraps. Generating some pressure from a pass rush that has registered just nine sacks would help.

2. Rein in the emotion

As much as everyone would like to see defensive end Bruce Smith tie or break the career sack record against the team that drafted him, the primary goal should be ending a two-game skid. Even Smith would admit that winning and not getting the record is a lot more satisfying.

3. Secondary matchups

With Eric Moulds expected to draw the attention of Washington cornerback Champ Bailey, the most critical matchup could be Bills receiver Josh Reed against Rashad Bauman, who will make his second career start in place of Fred Smoot (fractured sternum). When Bobby Shaw enters the game for Buffalo, either David Terrell or Todd Franz will be assigned to cover the underrated veteran.

Redskins today

Matchup: Washington Redskins (3-3) vs. Buffalo Bills (3-3)

Site: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y.

Time: 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Bills by 3

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