For the Buffalo Bills, a perfect afternoon at RFK Stadium yesterday would have included an NFL rushing title for Thurman Thomas, a sack record for Bruce Smith and, above all, an injury-free game against the Washington Redskins. With little else to play for, it was a day for personal glory and avoiding catastrophe.

Matters didn't quite work out as the Bills hoped. Thomas had five carries for zero yards in a half of work, Smith failed to get to Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien and defensive end Leon Seals hobbled away with a knee injury of undetermined severity. In what was almost an afterthought, Buffalo also suffered a sloppy, turnover-marred 29-14 defeat.

Yet the Bills hardly were fretting afterward. They still finished with a club-record 13 wins, still won their third straight AFC East championship and still hold home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And when they host a divisional playoff contest in two weeks, they're hopeful starting quarterback Jim Kelly will be sufficiently recovered from a knee injury to play.

"We lost, but so what?" Smith said. " . . . We won our division and we have home-field advantage. We have better things to look forward to. There wasn't a whole lot to be gained {yesterday}. It was kind of hard to get motivated."

The Bills were careful not to raise the Redskins' ire with their postgame remarks, but Buffalo clearly was not going at full-bore in what was a meaningless contest for both clubs as far as playoff implications are concerned. Bills Coach Marv Levy had spoken to Thomas and Smith last week, telling them they'd have their chances to pad their statistics but that such considerations would not be paramount.

Smith began the day with 19 sacks, three short of Mark Gastineau's league record set in 1984. And Thomas led the NFL in both rushing and total yards entering the game; however, Detroit's Barry Sanders -- who trailed Thomas by 16 rushing yards and 61 total -- later surpassed him to win the rushing crown with 23 yards on nine carries against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I'm slightly disappointed, but I'm not going to worry about it too much," Smith said. The Redskins initially planned to let tackle Jim Lachey go head-to-head with Smith, but they scrapped that plan after two offensive series -- and three near-sacks by Smith -- and Smith saw only double-teaming thereafter until being removed with most of the other Buffalo defensive starters early in the fourth quarter.

That was longer than the Bills' offensive anchors lasted: Thomas, quarterback Frank Reich and wide receiver Andre Reed (no catches) were done at halftime. "We substituted much like we planned on," Levy said. "There was no blueprint or anything, but we had a feel for when we wanted to get guys out of there and we mostly stuck to it.

"If Bruce Smith had gotten two early sacks, maybe we'd have let him stay in there for the entire game . . . but statistics were not primary."

Reich, formerly of the University of Maryland, had a frustrating homecoming in losing for the first time as the Bills' starter; he had been 4-0 subbing for Kelly over the past two seasons, including last week's division-clinching victory over Miami. Reich was seven for 14 passing for 88 yards in the first half as the Bills suffered from atrocious field position, committed two of their four turnovers and trailed by 9-0 at the intermission.

"I didn't really want to come out because we hadn't put any points on the board and I felt like we could win the game," Reich said. "But that was the coaches' decision, and they had told me I probably wouldn't play the whole way."

Mistakes plagued the Bills throughout. Fumbles by tight end Keith McKeller and Thomas helped the Redskins begin their first four drives in Buffalo territory, and quarterback Gale Gilbert -- in his first action since the preseason -- threw two second-half interceptions to thwart a comeback.

Yet the Bills seemed relatively pleased with their efforts. The Buffalo defense held Washington to field goals after the offense's first-half miscues. And the Bills appear confident their ills will be cured if Kelly returns for their first playoff matchup; he's scheduled to begin running this week and may return to practice the following week.

"Someone's going to have to come {to Buffalo} and beat us," Smith said. "We feel pretty good about ourselves. Our effort was good {yesterday}, and we accomplished 99.9 percent of the goals we had for ourselves this year."