(WUSA) -- Halloween's less than a week away and there's something eerie going on with the Redskins.
Indulge me for a moment and think back to 2003. Washington was in its second season under an offensive mastermind who had coached at Florida and whose debut had been very disappointing. The Redskins started that year 3-1 before losing consecutive games to NFC East rival Philadelphia and an NFC South foe (Tampa Bay) before traveling to Buffalo for the first time in seven years. Washington was crushed by the Bills and never recovered, finishing 5-11 and causing coach Steve Spurrier to resign under duress.
Fast forward to 2011. Coached by former Gators offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan - who debuted at 6-10 -- the Redskins got off to a surprising 3-1 start before losing the past two weeks to Philadelphia and an NFC South foe (Carolina). Next up is a visit to the Bills, albeit in Toronto where Buffalo plays eight games over five seasons ending in 2012.
So that trip's not exactly a positive omen for a Washington team whose confidence has been shaken by the back-to-back defeats against the Eagles and the Panthers and by the loss of seven starters to injuries in those games.
After starting the same 11 men on offense during the first five games, the Redskins will start six different players on that side of the ball on Sunday than they did in Week 4 at St. Louis when they improved to 3-1.
Santana Moss, their leading wide receiver since he arrived in a 2005 trade and the No. 4 target in franchise history, had the left hand he broke against the Panthers operated on today. He'll be lucky to be back before December, missing at least 5-7 weeks.
Chris Cooley, one of the two most prolific tight ends in franchise history, had the finger he broke against the Eagles operated on last Wednesday. Combined with his chronically ailing knee, his season could be over in October for the second time in three years.
Running back Tim Hightower, whose 67 yards in the first quarter at Carolina were his most ever for an opening period, will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL.
Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, who has the most experience of any Washington lineman in Shanahan's famed zone-blocking scheme, is already gone, having torn his ACL in the first quarter against the Eagles. That was the same period in which Cooley was hurt as well as left tackle Trent Williams, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 draft, who'll miss a second straight game this week with a high ankle sprain.
With John Beck making his first start at quarterback in place of the turnover-prone Rex Grossman, Washington's offense was actually as productive at Carolina as it had been when fully healthy, but much of that yardage came when the defeat was already ensured as had been the case when Beck relieved Grossman for the fourth quarter against the Eagles.
And while the Bills are weaker on defense than the Eagles or Panthers, their offense averages 28 points, six more than the Redskins' highest output. That makes the visit to the Great White North a pretty tall task for Beck and his band of battered brothers.
Adding to the weird similarities, the 2003 season included a November trip to Miami (where quarterback Patrick Ramsey's broken foot handed the job to Tim HasselBECK) and ended at Philadelphia. This year's Redskins visit Miami next month and wind up at Philly.
And while I don't expect Shanahan to repeat Spurrier's quick exit from Ashburn, the mood in these parts is certainly closer to here we go again than it is to the return to the glory days vibe that some were feeling just 10 days ago.
WUSA-9's Redskins Insider, David Elfin, has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of five books on the Redskins including the new "Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History."