ORCHARD PARK — Here’s hoping bettors took the under.
Sunday afternoon’s game between the Bills and Broncos at New Era Field projected to be a low-scoring game (the over/under was 37). They were 20th and 27th in the NFL in average points scored (21 and 17, respectively) and third and seventh in points surrendered (17 and 20), Buffalo having the best of both categories.
But toss in 17 mph winds producing a 31-degree chill and you’re not exactly expecting a shootout.
The Bills, in a run-oriented game, ground out a 20-3 victory before 67,388 witnesses who saw two rushing milestones, one that took 15 years, the other in its initial season.
Short term, Buffalo finished the soft part of its schedule at 8-3, its victories over teams that are a collective 18-63. It has solidified its position as the AFC’s No. 1 wild card, two full games ahead of Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Oakland (all 6-5).
The bad news is that in the Bills’ five closing games they will be underdogs in four of them, at Dallas (6-5) Thanksgiving afternoon, home with Baltimore (8-2 heading into tonight’s game against the Rams in L.A.), at Pittsburgh and at New England (10-1).
Veteran running back Frank Gore, relegated to a back-up role, rushed 15 times for 65 yards to eclipse the legendary Barry Sanders and move into third place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list (15,289 yards, 20 more than the back he passed) while also tying explosive Marshall Faulk for fourth in the ranking of scrimmage yards (19,154).
The newer mark was rookie running back Devin Singletary, Buffalo’s third-round draft choice, who had his most carries (21) and his first 100-yard rushing game (106).
Oddly, neither Gore nor Singletary scored, that role being filled by wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley, who scored on 34- and 18-yard passes from quarterback Josh Allen, who was an economical 15-of-25 on throws with the two TD tosses and his first interception in five games.
But this game was won in the trenches where Buffalo rushed for 244 yards on 47 carries (over 5 per try) while holding Denver (3-8) to 85 yards and mounting a 73-46 edge in plays and a 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
“That’s where the game starts,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott of his offensive and defensive lines. “We talked before the game about how important it was going to be to control the line of scrimmage, especially with the conditions.
“The wind is not abnormal for this time of year in Western New York, but our team is used to playing in it so we have some experience built up.”
AND WHILE Gore was thrilled to take his place among the all-time great NFL running backs, he was equally happy for Singletary.
“He’s like a little brother,” Gore said. “Ever since he got drafted I’ve had him in my hip pocket and he listens to everything I say. Great kid … he’s got great natural ability and he’s got a great chance to be real big in this league. I’m gonna stay on him even when I’m done.
“He’s very humble, kind of reminds me of myself, great vision, great feet. He’s bigger than what people think (5-feet-7, but 203 pounds), that’s why he breaks a lot of tackles. I told him, just be you out there and that’s what he did today.”
Of course Singletary was in awe of his mentor’s numbers.
“That was major,” he said of Gore’s milestone. “Everyone knows that was a major moment. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest and I’m just glad to be part of it.”
And what did Gore think of first when he passed Sanders?
“My mom, a single parent doing whatever she could to make sure me and my brothers had food on the table and just being there no matter what,” he said.
OF COURSE, the offensive effort notwithstanding, Buffalo’s defense actually won the game.
For the second time this season, the Bills held an opponent without a touchdown (Washington had three field goals in a 24-9 loss) and stuffed Denver with a season-low 134 yards, 89 fewer than the previous best in the opener at the Meadowlands against the Jets. Buffalo sacked Broncos quarterback Brandon Allen four times and held him to an ugly passer line: 10-of-25 for 82 yards with an interception (Tre’Davious White grabbed his team-best fourth) and an anemic 32.4 passer rating (Josh Allen’s was 92.9).
Denver’s 49 net passing yards were 67 fewer than the Bills’ previous low against the Redskins.
“We pride ourselves on creating turnovers,” White said, “especially in, or near the red zone ... that’s a big deal for a team. They had a drive going and I was able to catch it (at Buffalo’s 8-yard line).
“But it doesn’t matter who gets (the interception) as long as we don’t allow them to score.”
BESIDES moving up the the NFL’s rushing list, what else did Gore take from the game?
“It was a great win … November-December, this is real football and our team stepped it up and we’ve put ourselves in a great position at 8-3,” he said. “Now we have a short week and let’s just keep being us. We’ve got to keep working and believing in our coaches.”