Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox came to the Buffalo Bills about an hour apart.
As third-round draft picks in 2019, the running back and tight end were selected to be a big part of an offense that was being rebuilt with quarterback Josh Allen leading the way.
They’ve done just that, with Singletary playing 45 games and Knox 42 in the regular season in the three years that have followed. Truthfully, though, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Knox had trouble with drops early in his career. As recently as three months ago, Singletary went through a six-game stretch when he carried the ball 34 times for just 156 yards.
All of that feels like a long, long time ago after Saturday night. On a memorable night inside Highmark Stadium, Knox and Singletary combined for four – count ’em four – touchdowns in the Bills’ 47-17 victory over the New England Patriots in an AFC wild-card playoff game. The Bills now await their opponent in the divisional round. If the Chiefs beat the Steelers on Sunday night, Buffalo will travel to Kansas City next weekend. If the Steelers pull off the upset, the Bills will host the Cincinnati Bengals next weekend.
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"It's been huge," Allen said of the emergence of Knox and Singletary. "Especially going forward, we're going to need everybody -- offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff. ... It's an opportunity right in front of us right now, so we're going to need everybody going forward, guys pulling in one direction. Obviously, we don't know who we play next week, but we've got to put together a good game plan and have a really good week of preparation and go out there and try to execute again."
The Buffalo Bills will need to wait until the result of the Sunday night game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers to determine their AFC divisional round opponent next Saturday or Sunday.
Knox opened the scoring with a remarkable, 8-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to cap the Bills’ opening drive, continuing what was a breakout regular season. The third-year tight end finished with 49 catches for 587 yards and nine touchdowns – all easily career bests.
Knox added a second touchdown catch before the end of the first quarter, becoming the first player with a pair of receiving touchdowns in the first quarter of a playoff game since Antonio Brown in 2017 – and the only tight end to ever do it, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He finished the game with a team-leading five catches for 89 yards, becoming the first member of the Bills since Bill Brooks in 1994 to catch multiple touchdowns in a postseason game.
Knox’s emergence was the most promising development for the Bills in 2021. A close second on that list is Singletary’s play over the last six weeks. After rushing four times for 52 yards in the second half of the Bills’ valiant comeback effort against the Patriots, Singletary has been on an absolute heater.
He closed the regular season by rushing for 323 yards and four touchdowns over the final four games. He stayed hot in the frigid cold Saturday night by rushing 16 times for 81 yards and adding three catches for 13 yards.
Singletary is the first member of the Bills to rush for multiple touchdowns in a postseason game since Antowain Smith had two against Tennessee in 2000.
"When teams want to try to play that two-high look, and we're able to hand it to 'Motor' and he's making guys miss and dragging guys and getting 7, 8 yards on first down, just the efficiency that it brings you," Allen said. "We have this concept we like to call playing in the green and skipping some third downs. When you're able to hand the ball off and skip third downs, you're typically going to have success. I've said this over and over, you look at 'Motor' every single play, I dare you guys to watch it, just the amount of effort he puts in, whether he's getting the ball or he's not, working down the field, making an extra block, picking guys up off the ground. That pays dividends. It does. He does things the right way, and you're seeing things come to fruition because of how he approaches the game."
There are, of course, other reasons that the Bills’ offense has hit its stride – Allen playing like the best player on the planet chief among them. The offensive line, too, deserves credit for finding its way late in the year – Allen wasn't sacked Saturday, the fourth consecutive game that’s been the case.
The Bills became the first team in the Super Bowl era to score a touchdown on each of their first seven drives of a playoff game. That sentence deserves to be repeated. Seven possessions. Seven touchdowns. That’s a record that might stand for a long, long time.
That it came against the Patriots, and future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick makes it all the more sweeter for Bills fans. Nothing tops 51-3, but what happened Saturday night is about as close as a game can come.
Singletary and Knox played a big part in that.
2. Micah Hyde made one of the best defensive plays of the season. After Knox opened the scoring, the Patriots put together a solid drive, completing third downs of 14 and 10 yards, respectively, to get the ball to the Buffalo 34-yard line. Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones had receiver Nelson Agholor deep down the left sideline. Agholor had beaten Levi Wallace on the play, but Hyde covered ground like a center fielder, arriving just in time to make an incredible interception. The play showed why Hyde, deservedly, was named a second-team All-Pro just days ago.
"They ran a double move on the outside," Hyde said. "I got a late jump on it, honestly. I felt like I could have got an earlier jump. I didn’t believe it right away, but when I knew he was throwing, I just put my head down and started running. I knew it was going to be at the receiver, and I just looked up at the last second, and the ball was there. And so, was able to make a play on it."
Not just any play.
"I told him on the sideline, ‘That might have been the most unbelievable play I’ve ever seen on the field,’ " Poyer said. "I was playing man on the tight end, he ran a drag, and I saw Mac throw the ball in the air, and I mean it looked like the receiver had maybe a step, but just Micah was there and made an unbelievable play. Like I said, probably one of the best plays I had ever seen on the field."
3. Tommy Doyle caught a touchdown. The Patriots have never been all that shy about running the score up against their opponents. With that in mind, it’s hard not to think the Bills were sending a bit of a message about no longer being New England’s little brother when they called Doyle’s number on a second-and-goal play from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Allen faked the handoff and rolled to his left before throwing to a wide-open Doyle, the team’s fifth-round draft pick who has seen his playing time increase recently as a sixth offensive lineman.
"Getting Tommy Doyle a touchdown, that was pretty fun," Allen said. "So guys were locked in. We had a lot of different play calls tonight, but at the end of the day, we went out there and executed. It just kind of goes back to how we practiced this week and what we prepared to do."
4. Emmanuel Sanders returned with a touchdown. The veteran receiver, who missed three of the final four games in the regular season because of a knee injury, got the start and contributed two catches and 36 yards to the win. That total included a 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter when Sanders got wide open down the left sideline, and Allen delivered a perfect ball. It was Sanders' first career playoff touchdown in 14 games.
5. Jerry Hughes continued his postseason sacks streak. The veteran defensive end, who is in the final year of his contract and potentially played his final home game with the team, sacked Jones near the end of the second quarter. In so doing, he became the first member of the team with a streak of at least three playoff games with a sack since Bruce Smith had a five-game streak between Jan. 9, 1993, at Pittsburgh and Jan. 23, 1994, against Kansas City.
Other milestones defensively: Wallace had his first career postseason interception and rookie Boogie Basham his first postseason sack.
6. Mario Addison suffered a shoulder injury. The Bills’ veteran defensive end made a great hustle play in the first half to chase Patriots running back Damien Harris out of bounds a yard short of a first down.
Addison, though, was hurt in the third quarter on New England’s touchdown drive when he collided with Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. The Bills announced Addison was questionable to return with a shoulder injury, but with the score comfortably in hand, there was no reason for him to re-enter the game.
7. Isaiah McKenzie and Hyde split return duties. The Bills made rookie Marquez Stevenson a healthy inactive, which meant there was some question as to how coach Sean McDermott would decide to handle who returned kicks and punts.
McKenzie was back for the kicks, while Hyde handled punt-return duties. Hyde had a somewhat reluctant, 52-yard return in the fourth quarter, picking the ball up only after it bounced right to him, then sprinting left before turning up field. Hyde looked like he might take it all the way until he tripped over teammate Tyrel Dodson.
"Oh my gosh, that hurt," Hyde said. "That one hurt. Man, I wish I had that back. I would have jumped over him or something, but yeah, that one hurt."
No matter. Three plays later, Allen connected with Doyle for the team’s seventh touchdown.
8. The Bills were healthy going into the game. No players carried an injury designation, meaning in addition to Stevenson, the other six inactive players were all healthy. That list included defensive end Efe Obada, defensive tackle Eli Ankou, linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, tight end Tommy Sweeney, offensive tackle Bobby Hart and running back Matt Breida.
Giles-Harris and Ankou were called up from the practice squad Friday.
9. The Bills brought out the big guns. Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas were the leaders of the charge before the game, firing up the crowd with the "Shout" song and the question, “Where else would you rather be,” which fans answered with a thundering “than right here, right now.” Kelly and Thomas played together with the Bills from 1988-96, and hold several postseason records, including passing yards (3,863), passing touchdowns (21) and passing yards in a single game (405) by Kelly and career rushing yards (1,442), rushing touchdowns (16) and rushing yards in a game (186) by Thomas.
Thomas wore a Singletary jersey, while Kelly was in an Allen jersey.
10. The Patriots' inactives included starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn. A fourth-year veteran, Wynn is dealing with hip and ankle injuries. He left New England’s Week 18 loss to Miami in the first quarter.
New England listed 13 players as questionable on its final injury report, but Wynn was the only one not to play. That meant safety Kyle Dugger (hand), rookie defensive tackle Christian Barmore (knee), defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (knee) were in the lineup. All of them were considered truly questionable. Additionally, Patriots starting cornerback Jalen Mills missed the game on the reserve/Covid-19 list.
Also out for New England were tight end Devin Asiasi, running back J.J. Taylor, quarterback Jarrett Stidham, wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson and defensive ends Carl Davis and Chase Winovich.