Before the game Sunday against the Broncos, rookie running back Devin Singletary walked up to his ageless mentor, Frank Gore, and declared, “Let’s go get those 46 yards!”
Gore, you see, was 46 yards away from passing Barry Sanders for third on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. Gore knew what lay ahead of him. But he had another milestone on his mind.
“Let’s go get your first 100-yard game!” he told Singletary.
It seemed like a tall order. Denver came in with the league’s fourth-ranked defense. Over their previous six games, they had allowed an average of 78 yards rushing. One week earlier, they had held Minnesota, the NFC’s top rushing attack, to 37 yards.
Undaunted, the Bills rushed for 244 yards in a resounding, 20-3 victory over the Broncos at New Era Field. They ran over Denver from start to finish, rushing for their most yards since Dec. 24, 2016, without a single run of more than 27 yards.
A week earlier, they had dominated the Dolphins in a 17-point win. But fearless as it seemed, it came against a very bad team. Skeptics were waiting to see what Josh Allen and the offense would do against the Broncos — the start of a five-game run against teams all ranked in the top 11 in scoring defense.
They passed the test, and is started with the run game. Gore had 65 yards and passed Sanders for third on the career list with 15,289 yards. And yes, the kid had his first career 100-yard day, busting for 106 yards on 21 carries, an average of 5 yards a pop.
So they’re 8-3 for the first time since 1996, a year before Singletary was born. The Bills have a two-game lead over their four nearest competitors in the AFC wild-card chase, and will be riding high when they show up for a Thanksgiving date in Dallas with the eyes of the nation watching.
“We could care less about the eyes of the nation being on us,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We understand it’s a prime-time game and a lot of people will be watching us on Thanksgiving, but we’re trying to get better each and every week.
“We’re not too worried about Joe Schmoe in Wyoming eating Thanksgiving dinner and watching the Buffalo Bills.”
Well, Mr. Schmoe might be impressed with the chemistry and character of this Bills team, a tightly knit group that takes Sean McDermott’s preachings to heart. It’s been evident all season in the bond between the running backs, born 14 years apart.
Gore has continued to encourage Singletary, even as he was losing snaps and carries to the kid. And Singletary — who has the nickname “Motor” never said a discouraging word earlier in the season when Gore was getting more of the work despite Singletary’s gaudy rushing average.
“The rookie and the vet, man!” Hyde said. “That’s the type of guy Frank is; it goes to the character of the man. He’s made a lot of plays in his career, but he gives Motor tips and clues on how he can get better. Motor is getting tips from a legend who’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”
It shows. Singletary, at 5-7 and 203 pounds, is perceived as an elusive runner, a scatback. But he’s maturing as an inside runner who takes punishment and fights for extra yards.
Singletary motored for his 106 yards without a run over 11. He had runs of 11, 10, 10, 10, 9 and 8. Sure, he gets caught behind the line now and then. So did Sanders, the guy Gore passed Sunday. At some point, you knew he was going to bust a big one. There have been several plays lately where you felt Singletary was very close to taking one all the way.
That’s why you keep feeding a player of that ability. Singletary now has 490 yards rushing on 84 carries, a 5.8-yard average that’s second in the NFL only to Lamar Jackson and the highest of any running back in the league with 80 carries.
“I’m always very confident,” said Singletary, a product of Florida Atlantic. “I’ve just got to keep working, really. I feel I’m getting better, week in and week out. And I’m trying to build on that.
“I feel like it (a long TD run) is coming. Just got to keep working. That’s it. There’s some runs, if you know it could have gone all the way, you’d like to have back. It’ll come.”
You get that sense about the offense as a whole, that it’s still evolving. There’s plenty to criticize — they had 12 penalties; they settled for field goals after their first two long drives; they had another confounding lapse of clock management late in the first half, similar to the end of the Browns game.
But they had 424 yards against a Denver defense that boasts two Pro Bowlers (Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr.) and was expected to give the Bills a serious test. Of course, it’s hard to win when your offense manages 134 yards and your third-string quarterback, Brandon Allen, is out of his depth.
Josh was clearly the better Allen on Sunday, throwing for 185 yards and two TDs, including a 34-yarder to John Brown that was his first completion all season that traveled 30 yards in the air. He also had a couple of his signature Houdini scrambles.
There’s no need to apologize for 8-3. We know they’ve beaten a bunch of sad sack quarterbacks this year, with Ryan Fitzpatrick the class of the bunch. But it’s not such a bad thing when critics are withholding praise. If people are holding them to a high standard, well, the Bills are, too.
“I mean, until we play a perfect game, you haven’t seen our best,” said left tackle Dion Dawkins. “There will always be mistakes, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Dawkins said he remembers playing with Gore in video games as a little boy. Now he’s blocking for him. He calls it a blessing, an honor. So does Singletary, who hasn’t lobbied for carries one time this year, saying his time would come.
“It’s very special,” he said of Gore. “It’s major. I get to be around him every day. I get to learn from him … "
“Man, talk about his first 100 yards!” a voice hollered from an adjacent locker. It was Gore, lobbying for his protege.
“Keep going, man,” Gore said as he approached Singletary. Then he turned to a couple of reporters. “He’s a natural back, strong, bigger than people think. You know what I'm saying?
“I love that kid, man. He’s very humble. He reminds me of myself, man. He don’t say much. But he just plays ball."
Any Schmoe could see that.