BUFFALO, OCT. 31 -- A week ago, after upsetting the Miami Dolphins, 34-31, in overtime, the Buffalo Bills flew home to find a large gathering of cheering fans awaiting their arrival. They were tied for the lead in the AFC East, even if their record was only 3-3. Their stars, quarterback Jim Kelly and defensive end Bruce Smith, were playing very well, better than expected.

It was at about this time last Sunday night that Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, back in Washington, began to get really worried about his next football game.

The Redskins (5-1), rolling along with a two-game lead in the NFC East, will play a deceptively difficult game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Rich Stadium. The Bills, who have not won more than four games in a season since 1983, have won two of their three nonreplacement games, and lost the first by just three points to the New York Jets. The weather is expected to be just as un-Buffalo-like as the Bills have been, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s. Attendance is anticipated to be about 70,000.

The Redskins, who did not play well until the final eight minutes in their victory over the Jets last week, have made some changes for this game, some obvious, some subtle.

Running back George Rogers, their 1,000-yard rusher who has gained only 20 yards this season in eight carries, will start for the second time this year. (He started the season opener until he sprained his shoulder.) Rogers will wear protective padding in his left shoe to cushion his sore big toe from Rich Stadium's artificial turf. There is nothing Gibbs would like more than to see Rogers carry the ball 20-25 times and gain 100 yards. Washington has won 33 consecutive games in which one of its backs has rushed for 100 yards.

Two others who didn't play last week will be in uniform for Washington Sunday: linebacker Kurt Gouveia, replacing the injured Anthony Copeland, and ex-replacement cornerback Dennis Woodberry, taking the place of top draft choice Brian Davis on outside covereage on special teams and as a nickel back. Woodberry will be joined by H-back Craig McEwen as the two ex-replacements on the Washington roster.

Because Buffalo has been led by a couple standout players, this is one game that accentuates one-on-one matchups. The two most mentioned words at Redskin Park this week have been Jim Kelly. The fourth-rated quarterback in the NFL, Kelly has thrown for 957 yards in three games, more than any other quarterback in the AFC.

But it's not what he has done as much as how he has done it. Kelly has a reputation for being fearless. Gibbs thinks he is one of the three or four best quarterbacks in the league. Washington wide receiver Clarence Verdin, a teammate of Kelly's with Houston in the U.S. Football League, called him a "gambling quarterback."

Said Verdin: "He'll try to nickel and dime you, suck you in, and then go for the long ball. He loves the deep ball. When you think he's not going to put it there, he puts it there."

The Redskin defense, third in the league with 27 sacks, will not find Kelly to be the world's greatest scrambler, but will find him tough to reach because he enjoys throwing out of the shotgun. His favorite receiver is Chris Burkett, who has averaged 15.4 yards on his 19 catches, and running back Ronnie Harmon, who has 18 receptions for an average of nearly 10 yards a catch.

One of the first players reporters looked for at Redskin Park this week was Pro Bowl cornerback Darrell Green. The Redskins like to play a man-to-man, pressing coverage so they can blitz and put pressure on the quarterback. "We put our cornerbacks in a precarious position," said Gibbs. If Green and fellow cornerback Barry Wilburn don't hold up their end, this defense will fall apart.

"When the receiver knows where he's going and the quarterback knows where he's going, I'm the only guy who doesn't know where he's going," Green said. "I hope Dexter {Manley's} hand is in Kelly's face or {Charles} Mann's hand is in his face. We need all the help we can get."

On offense, the Redskins are most concerned with Smith, the Virginia Tech player selected first in the 1985 draft. "He is just so devastating," Gibbs said.

"He's got my eyes popping," said Bills Coach Marv Levy. They tell a story in Buffalo of how Smith got a sack this year with four blockers on him. "He is absolutely fantastic," Levy said.

Smith lines up at right defensive end and will face Redskins left offensive tackle Joe Jacoby. Smith has 3.5 sacks. The Bills have had 10 total sacks, four against the Jets, including one on the first play of the season.

"We need more defensive help," Levy said. "We've given up 31, 30, and 31 points in our {regular} games." Sean McNanie, the Bills' left defensive end, is questionable due to a shoulder injury, which doesn't help Levy at all.

This game will give quarterback Jay Schroeder a chance to show how good he is compared to Kelly. Schroeder, returning from a sprained shoulder, didn't play well last week until he led the Redskins to their last-minute comeback win. If Rogers runs well, it's likely Schroeder will be able to pick away at the Bills' secondary. But it won't be easy. Buffalo's defense is ranked 12th overall, 13th against the rush, 10th against the pass.

As good as the Bills have been of late, the Redskins have been better, at least statistically. Washington is ranked No. 2 in total offense in the NFL, second in passing and fifth in rushing.