ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Somewhere in the corner of a dust-covered, abandoned locker room in South Florida, there must be a constantly aging painting of a decrepit Frank Gore.
The starting running back on the NFL’s all-Dorian Gray team, Gore continues to produce at a consistent level, well past the age at which players at his position generally leave the game.
Gore, 36, ran for 109 yards on 17 carries on Sunday for the Buffalo Bills against the New England Patriots, becoming the second-oldest player to run for 100 yards in a game. The performance made him the fourth player in NFL history to break 15,000 rushing yards. He has 15,021, putting him a mere 249 from passing Barry Sanders as the third-leading rusher in league history.
Since he was signed by Buffalo this offseason to play a tandem role with LeSean McCoy, Gore’s importance has grown with McCoy’s release and rookie Devin Singletary‘s hamstring injury in Week 2. The 15-year veteran has operated as the Bills’ de facto lead back the past three weeks, recording at least 14 carries in each game — something he hasn’t done since he was a member of the Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
The epitome of consistency, Gore’s yards-per-game average has dipped below 65 yards just three times in his 15-year career — all during his three-season stint with the Colts (2015-17). That he’s once again flirting with his career average of 70 yards per game is a testament not only to his work ethic but also to the effort of the players around him.
“He’s a good player,” Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said Monday. “I think that our line has done a good job, and the tight ends and skill guys, in … getting a hat for a hat and allowing him to get downhill. He’s broken some tackles. He’s a tireless worker.
“He’s a guy whose accolades, I’d say — he’s got over 15,000 yards — speak for themselves.”
If his 2019 season to date is any indication, Gore should have no problem passing Sanders. He’s averaging 68 rushing yards per game through four games at a 4.5 yards-per-carry clip, all while playing roughly half of Buffalo’s offensive snaps.
The Bills are mindful of the wear on Gore’s body — not to the point of placing him on a snap count but enough that they won’t ride him too hard if they can prevent it.
“Frank’s 36. Can he play 70 plays? I don’t know,” Daboll said. “He’s well-conditioned, but that body’s taken some beating … We have a lot of confidence in him. As much as we can give it to him, I think he’d take it.”
After being on the field for 61% and 62% of the Bills offensive snaps in Weeks 2 and 3, Gore’s playing time dropped to 46% against the Patriots. He carried the ball twice in the fourth quarter as backup quarterback Matt Barkley entered the game for an injured Josh Allen and attempted to orchestrate a comeback.
Singletary was close to playing Sunday, head coach Sean McDermott said, and his eventual return will likely eat into Gore’s role.
But at this point in his career, Gore is more focused on his blessings than he is concerned about internal competition.
“I’m blessed,” he said after Sunday’s game. “Loving the game, and you know, I’m just blessed.”