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It was more of an nuisance than a football game.

The idea was to brush it away, get it over and done with, then go on to the important stuff.

After the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Phoenix Saturday afternoon, there was nothing at stake for Washington and Buffalo in RFK Stadium Sunday. The Bills arrived in D.C. already champions of the AFC East and holders of the precious home-field advantage. Washington knew it would be going to Philly for next weekend's NFC wild-card game.

So the game, at times, resembled a Midsummer Night's exhibition.

All week, Marv Levy pooh-poohed the idea that "we are in a preseason game mode." But then, Marv leads the league in pooh-poohing. According to the age-old duck test: If it waddles like a duck, if it quacks, etc., it is a duck.

In this case, if the Bills' offense did not include their vaunted, tried-and-proven-under-fire no-huddle attack; if the substitutes came into the contest in the second half; if sparks did not fly out of the ear holes in the Bills' helmets -- it was a preseason game or about as close as you can get to it.

Well, why not? The boys earned a little cruise control.

The Bills may have been as flat as they have been since the second game of the season when they were ambushed by Miami. Yet, when you think about it, that is an awful lot of "up" games in between. There were 13 games when their adrenaline did pump.

Not only that, but the Bills played with huge concentration in those games.

Since the Denver game, the fourth of the season, Buffalo running backs and wide receivers had lost only one fumble. That came three weeks ago in Indianapolis when Don Smith fumbled on the 2-yard line as he was diving for the Colts' end zone.

Sunday, the Bills lost two fumbles in the first 12 minutes. All season, their favorite dessert was opposition turnovers. But in the fourth quarter they matched the two fumbles with two interceptions of Gale Gilbert passes.

Someone asked, in the wake of the unaccustomed finish, about the Bills' effort.

"The effort was fine," bristled Marv. "Our effort was excellent."

Well, sure there was effort. The degree of effort might be arguable. There weren't the usual sparks, but the effort was there. For all their opportunities in the first half, the 'Skins couldn't do much with them. The Bills' defense toughed it out close to the goal.

If they had been home, the Bills might have taken it a little bit more seriously. That might explain Washington's superior concentration.

But Levy had to get some of his under-worked subs a little work under fire.

The most impressive understudy was Gilbert, the quarterback who hasn't played since August. He looked like a big-league passer in the exhibitions, but that was against vanilla defenses. Sunday, he threw some impressive passes against strawberry ripple and mocha fudge defenses.

OK, Gilbert had those interceptions. But the first, and most damaging, came when he failed to look off safety Alvin Walton, who was laying in the proverbial weeds. Walton returned the ball 60 yards to set up the Redskins' first TD. The second interception, by ex-Bill Martin Mayhew, could have been the result of Gilbert being shaken by Walton's steal.

The Bills may discover that they are three deep at the vital quarterback position.

Considering that Washington goes into the playoffs not sure it has even one big-league quarterback, Gilbert may represent found money to Buffalo.

The Bills had to find their consolation in small doses. The fog had lifted by the time they bused to the stadium Sunday morning. They got to see the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.

The trip wasn't a total loss.

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