Holy Bananas, Bills Mafia! It finally happened. Buffalo has defeated the evil empire at home for the first time since 2011! They were also able to finally pound the rock to the tune of 190 yards, the most by the team in a single game since November 2019. (Shout out to Jon Feliciano, your candy gram is in the mail.) Both Devin Singletary and Zack Moss notched over 80 rushing yards, the first pair of Bills backs to do so since 2016 (LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee). Additionally, Moss is the first Bills back since McCoy (November 2018) to score two rushing touchdowns in a single game.
This is the type of production that Bills fans envisioned when McBeane drafted Moss in the third round this past April: a potent one-two punch in the backfield that can carve up opponents on the ground and in the short/intermediate passing game. So, assuming that this is sustainable, where would Motor and Moss fit within the running back duos of Bills history? That is where we will venture in this week’s installment of “2020 Vision”. Let us answer the Bills signal and dive in. (*Cue the corny ’60s Batman intro.*)
The Dynamic Duos
It should be noted that, while the Bills have a rich lineage of running backs, they have not had many notable duos. Cookie Gilchrist and Wray Carlton were teammates on the AFL championship teams, but Gilchrist was the feature back (RB1). As Ben Blakely points out in his most recent article, Marshawn Lynch lost the RB1 role to Fred Jackson before being traded to Seattle. Greg Bell took over the starting job when Joe Cribbs returned from his holdout in 1985. Travis Henry was replaced by Willis McGahee in 2004. Meanwhile, Thurman Thomas was a handcuff to Antowain Smith in 1997 before ending his Bills’ tenure as a backup. LeSean McCoy was a part of two one-season duos with Karlos Williams (2015) and Mike Gilleslee (2016) but was always considered the feature back. That being said, the Bills have had a few running back duos who were productive together for a prolonged period of time.
O.J. Simpson & Jim Braxton
Everyone knows that the Electric Company Bills turned on the Juice, but he wasn’t the only one to benefit from Lou Saban’s run-heavy scheme. Jim Braxton, Buffalo’s fullback and RB2, tallied 556 carries for 2,313 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns on the ground during their peak seasons (’72-’75). (O.J. averaged 5.1 yards per carry in that same period.) In 1973, Simpson’s 2,003-yard season, Braxton was on pace for 252 carries, 1,153 yards, and nine touchdowns before injuries ended his year after six games. They would’ve been one of eight rushing tandems to record 1,000 yards each in an NFL season. Given the nature of the NFL nowadays, we will likely never see another power run tandem like them again.
Thurman Thomas & Kenneth Davis/Darick Holmes
Kenny Davis was an effective backup for Thurman during Buffalo’s Super Bowl runs. He never missed a game and logged 441 carries for 1,930 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and 20 touchdowns on the ground. To put that into context, Thurman averaged 4.5 yards per carry during that same time frame. They were the closest thing to a wrestling tag-team you could get; when Thomas needed a breather, Davis would jump the rope and tear up opposing run defenses.
Once Kenny Davis retired, the RB2 torch was passed on to Darick Holmes. As Thurman’s spell back in ’95 and ’96, he carried the rock 361 times for 1,269 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. (Thurman averaged 3.7 yards per carry in those two seasons.) Holmes was a decent short-yardage back, but could not emerge from Davis’s shadow, as is the case with many successors to legends.
Fred Jackson & C.J. Spiller
Jackson and Spiller were like that odd couple in a romantic comedy that could never agree on anything until they went to a disastrous family gathering and came together for one glorious night. (I’m pretty sure that’s a thing.) In 2011 and 2012, Freddy was the definitive RB1 and Spiller was RB2. However, Spiller put up pro bowl-caliber numbers in 2012, leading to an increased role the following season. In 2013, the pair struck an almost perfect balance. Freddy had 206 carries for 890 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns on the ground. Meanwhile, C.J. had 202 carries for 933 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and two rushing scores. (Thanos would be jealous of that balance in carries.) Unfortunately, the magic would last just the one season and both backs would be out of Buffalo by 2015.
Looking into the Crystal Ball
Each of the past duos have consisted of a star RB1 and a lesser known RB2; a Batman and Robin if you will. However, Motor and Moss will not have that dynamic. Instead, they will probably be like Hawkeye and Black Widow: two heroes who aren’t marquee Avengers, but still play a key role in saving the world. (Jon Feliciano would be the Hulk, while Josh Allen would probably be Captain America.)
In terms of a direct comparison, you already know where I stand on Devin Singletary. Zack Moss, on the other hand, is built like Darick Holmes, but plays like Fred Jackson. He can run up the middle and outside in space. He can also bounce off tacklers and run them over. Additionally, he is underrated as a pass catcher. I believe that Motor and Moss may very well be the rushing tandem that Bills fans could only dream about.
Ceiling: Thurman Thomas & Fred Jackson (I got goosebumps just writing that!)
Floor: Thurman Thomas & Darick Holmes
It is yet to be seen whether Singletary and Moss will even make it to second contracts, let alone legendary status. However, I think that last week was a good start. In the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive…
* All player stats provided by Pro Football Reference.
What do you think? Will Singletary and Moss become the next great Bills RB duo? Let me know on Twitter (@zvaughn2712) and stay tuned for next week’s profile, same Bills time, same Bills place.