Adrian Peterson draped his No. 26 Washington jersey over a stool in the visitors’ locker room, uncapped a gold marker and began scrawling a message to Frank Gore.
But in a game that had featured two of the greatest running backs in NFL history, two future Hall of Famers in the twilight of their careers, it was a different No. 26 – Bills rookie Devin Singletary – whose star shined brightest.
“I was like, ‘Wow. Who is this kid?’ ” Peterson said to The Buffalo News after the Bills defeated the Redskins, 24-9, Sunday at New Era Field. “Because I was figuring to see Frank in there a little bit more, and then this young kid comes in there like a firecracker. I’m just like, ‘Wheeeeeeeeeew. He’s running. That’s my style. That’s what I like.’ I know Frank loves it, too. He’s very impressive. He did some great things in the run game, in the pass game, picking up blocks. He was very impressive to watch today.”
Singletary, the Bills’ third-round draft pick out of Florida Atlantic and potentially a spark plug to remedy their sputtering offense, started and slashed to a game-high 140 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches, punctuating his breakout performance with a two-yard touchdown run with 2½ minutes to play.
His 95 rushing yards on 20 carries were both career highs, as was his 45 receiving yards on three catches. A 49-yard catch-and-run on a first-quarter screen pass from Josh Allen was also the longest of his young career. The Bills scored on their first three possessions to take a 17-3 lead.
“We were rolling today,” Singletary said. “The big guys were getting push, so I just had to pick my way through. Even the tight ends and the receivers were getting in on blocks, so everybody was rolling.”
Well, not everybody.
Gore, in stark contrast, managed just 15 rushing yards on 11 carries, an average of 1.4 yards per touch, and was stonewalled on three consecutive handoffs at the goal line by Washington’s 28th-ranked run defense, before Allen scored on a fourth-down QB sneak.
No disrespect to Gore, who’s been solid since signing a one-year contract with the team in March and maintains a critical role on the team, but there is no good reason, barring injury, that the 36-year-old veteran should receive more carries than Singletary in any game the rest of this season.
The Bills released LeSean McCoy, after all, not because Gore was the new featured back, but because they could rely on his veteran presence to complement Singletary’s great promise.
“I feel like he’s only going to grow and only going to get better,” Allen said. “This is what, his fourth or fifth game in action? And he’s doing some really good things for us and we’re going to continue to use them.”
Singletary, 22, had appeared in just four previous games this season – he missed three with a strained hamstring – and in each instance flashed his burst, vision and elusiveness in a supporting role.
The 5-foot-7, 203-pound rookie had just three carries, and none before halftime, for 19 yards in last week’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and also scored on a 28-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, making it clear the Bills needed to get him more involved in the game plan, if it hadn’t been already.
Singletary had rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries entering Sunday’s game, an average of 8.6 yards per tote, and Bills fans were clamoring to see him receive a larger workload.
Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll wasted no time against Washington.
Singletary ran the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage and ended that opening drive with more carries (4) and rushing yards (26) than he had all game last week. The Bills also scored a touchdown on their opening possession for the first time all season.
“I approached it the same,” Singletary said. “I felt the same coming in. I just had more opportunities.”
The Bills’ offense remains a work in progress, particularly in short-yardage situations.
Buffalo entered the game ranked 29th in the league in “power success,” according to Football Outsiders, converting a first down or scoring on just 41% of rushing attempts with two or fewer yards to go. The statistic encompasses all such runs on third and fourth down, as well as those on first- and second-and-goal. The Bills were 4 of 9 in those situations against Washington.
“That’s definitely an area that we need to improve on,” Daboll said this past week. “It starts with us, of giving them a good plan, and then capitalizing on the opportunities we’ve had. But those have been some critical plays where you can keep a drive going.”
The Bills have other issues, to be sure.
Allen continues to be careless with the ball. While he hasn’t thrown an interception in three games, he fumbled twice against Washington, his ninth and 10th fumbles of the season, though both were recovered by the Bills.
The Buffalo run defense was gashed yet again, at least in the first half, when Peterson rumbled for 101 rushing yards on 10 carries. He finished with 108 yards on 18 carries.
“The second half was more of what we expect,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
Gore hurried out of the Bills’ locker room before many teammates had hit the showers, offering brief comments as he pulled on his coat.
He answered a question about Washington’s quick defensive penetration by saying, “You said it, so that’s what happened, I guess. I don’t know.”
A bit of NFL history was made Sunday, with Gore and Peterson on opposite sidelines. It marked the first time a game has featured two players with at least 13,500 career rushing yards.
Gore entered the game with 15,170 yards – 100 away from passing Barry Sanders for third most all-time. Peterson had 13,701 yards, sixth all time, 401 away from passing Curtis Martin to move into the top five.
Singletary said he was “definitely thinking about that” and called Gore and Peterson “GOATs,” among the greatest of all time.
“That’s my little homie, man,” Gore said. “He works hard, great kid. He deserves whatever he gets because he’s a humble kid and I like the way he respects the game.”
Peterson met with Singletary on the field after the game.
“I told him, ‘The sky’s the limit, man. Just keep working hard, keep God first and you’ll be able to accomplish anything you put your mind to, because I see the talent and the ability,’” Peterson said. “The guy, if he stays focused and continues to work and just grinds and believes, he won’t be able to be stopped. He’ll be able to do whatever he wants to do.”
Peterson said he remembers being a rookie in 2007 and hearing similar words from LaDainian Tomlinson, another all-time great.
“I remember talking to LT, him seeing some of the same qualities that he had in himself in me and just giving me encouraging words,” Peterson said. “He didn’t know how much that meant to me at that time, even just playing against him that first time in Minnesota. I went for 296 (yards and three touchdowns). That’s all because I was wired up to play him. You know? He was on the other side. I’m a Texas guy, he’s a Texas guy, so I know it goes a long way.”
A Washington staff member then attempted to deliver Peterson’s jersey to Gore, only to learn that Gore was long gone. He told a Bills employee the team will ship it to him, instead.
As for the message Peterson had written?
“That’s private,” he said.
Their stories have been written, their legacies secure. Singletary is just getting started. The Bills should feed him much more.