In the end, you could only conclude they were messing with the Bills all along, appearing meek and looking weak and fooling them into believing Sunday was the day they would rule the schoolyard. And by the time the Bills understood what hit them, they were balled into a fetal position with blood gushing from their noses.
Tom Brady and his gang from New England, you see, were just toying with Buffalo. They allowed the Bills to land a few punches and build false confidence in the first half. And when they decided enough was enough, the Patriots pulled the Bills' jerseys over their heads, humiliated them with a noogie and pummeled them in front of their friends.
OK, so not much has changed.
"Yeah, that was really embarrassing,'' Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We have a lot of pride in this locker room, and right now we have our tails between our legs. We got our butts kicked. Unfortunately, we've been in this situation before.''
The Pats effectively and convincingly put the Bills in their proper place, back down there, back where they belonged, with a 52-28 throttling in Ralph Wilson Stadium. The 70,684 fans started believing the gap had narrowed between the two teams in the first half, but they couldn't have been farther apart Sunday.
Forget the first 30 minutes because, well, that's precisely what the Patriots did before scoring 45 points over the final two quarters and delivering their customary beatdown. They were trailing by two touchdowns. They avoided a crisis when C.J. Spiller fumbled near the goal line late in the first half. They were the receiving team in the second half.
One score, then another and .
No, the Pats weren't worried.
"We've been in a lot of dogfights,'' Brady said afterward.
The Patriots expected victory because they're the Patriots and the Bills are the Bills, and you know how that rivalry has gone for more than a decade. The Patriots have won nine division titles in 11 years since Brady took over as the starting quarterback. Brady had an 18-2 record against Buffalo before Sunday.
One loss came last season when Brady threw four interceptions in a rare bad day at the office. The other came in 2003, when Drew Bledsoe led the Bills to a 31-0 victory in the season opener before Brady returned the favor in the finale. Otherwise, the Bills have been the gift that keeps giving.
Why would the Patriots think the showdown Sunday would be any different? Because the Bills added reinforcements and beefed up their defense during the offseason with defensive ends such as Mario Williams? Because the Patriots had lost two straight games? Because the Bills had a 21-7 lead in the third quarter?
New England's scoreboard deficit wasn't a sign of trouble so much as a minor inconvenience. Disregard the AFC East standings showing both teams are 2-2. If the game Sunday was an indication, light years separate these two teams. The Pats abused the Bills' defense for 580 total yards, the second-most allowed in franchise history.
Pats punter Zoltan Mesko should have hit the showers after the first possession of the second half. New England finished the game with six straight touchdowns before adding one last kick to the face, a 30-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski after the two-minute warning. The win was so convincing that Bill Belichick smiled after the game.
"I wasn't really all that concerned,'' receiver Wes Welker said. "I just wanted to make sure we were still battling and fighting and making sure everybody was doing that. It tells a lot about a team whenever you're down like that and you keep on fighting. You keep staying after it. Eventually, good things happen.''
Brady apparently had enough sleep in one of our finer hotels, although he didn't play like a demigod in the first half. He was ordinary before settling down and making the proper adjustments, the way he usually does. He finished with 340 yards passing. He threw three touchdown passes and ran for another, all in the second half.
And he wasn't the guy who killed the Bills.
Ten others inflicted equal damage, which is how gangs usually work. Welker and Rob Gronkowski had more than 100 yards receiving, but the Patriots pounded the Bills because they pounded the ball. The offensive line dominated.
Brandon Bolden, who had 15 yards on seven carries going into the game, averaged 8.6 yards per carry and finished with 137 yards rushing and a touchdown. Stevan Ridley had 106 yards rushing and two TDs.
The Patriots rushed for 247 yards, including 159 yards in the second half.
"They were challenging us to run the ball,'' Brady said. "They had some little guys on the field with our big personnel groupings.''
Big guys picking on little guys. It sounds about right.
The Patriots play Peyton Manning and the Broncos next week. You might say New England's game against Buffalo was a tuneup.