ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Patriots owner Robert Kraft waited in the Ralph Wilson Stadium tunnel to welcome back the regular NFL officials, who returned from a lockout after reaching a new eight-year agreement with the NFL.
After shaking hands with most of the members of referee John Parry's crew, Kraft stuck around for Tom Brady to congratulate the quarterback as the two laughed and chatted on their way to the locker room.
Just like that, all seems well in New England (2-2) once again.
Brady shook off a sloppy first half to direct six consecutive touchdown drives in 52-28 rout of the Buffalo Bills (2-2) on Sunday. And whatever concerns the Patriots had after two consecutive losses — and coach Bill Belichick getting fined $50,000 for losing his cool with the replacement officials following a 31-30 loss at Baltimore — suddenly seem like distant memories.
"It was pretty personal," Brady said, when asked what he and Kraft discussed.
So might have been this game.
At a time when the Patriots' supremacy was being questioned, and the team was in jeopardy of losing three straight for the first time in 10 years, Brady and Co. rallied from a 14-point deficit with a remarkably efficient and dominating second half.
"We were down whatever it was, 21-7, on the road, our backs against the wall, and I thought we showed a lot of heart," Brady said. "That's what this team is made of. We're going to battle until the end."
Brady finished 22 of 36 for 340 yards and three touchdowns, Stevan Ridley scored two TDs rushing, and the Patriots defense did the rest by forcing six turnovers and getting three sacks.
Just don't try to convince the Patriots that they made it look easy in beating a familiar AFC East patsy.
"It's not as easy as it looks," tight end Rob Gronkowski said. "Overall, everyone just came together, chemistry, and worked hard, and things went rolling from the third quarter on."
Gronkowski's 28-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the fourth quarter made it 28-21 to put the Patriots up for good. And it came during a span of 12:41 in which New England scored 35 unanswered points.
The Patriots had two receivers break 100 yards, Gronkowski (104) and Wes Welker (129), and two running backs do the same Ridley (106) and Brandon Bolden (137).
"We just played and executed better," Belichick said. "It's no magic."
Magic no. Familiar, yes.
Fans of the ever-bumbling Bills — a team that's gone 12 straight seasons without a playoff berth and dropped to 4-22 against division foes since 2008 — have seen this outcome many times before in dropping to 1-17 in their past 18 meetings against New England, and 2-22 since the 2000 season
The Bills have now been outscored by a combined 204-116 in their last five games against the Patriots, and that includes a 34-31 win at Buffalo last season.
And the lopsided result was no different despite Buffalo committing more than $120 million in contracts to sign defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency this offseason.
"Ugly, not good," Williams said, referring to the Bills run defense.
Then again, their pass defense wasn't much better after managing just one sack.
"Something's up," Williams added. "We've definitely got to come in to the room, have a reality check and see what's going on."
Defensive tackle Kyle Williams had an even more blunt response, by saying: "The only reaction I have is, that was pathetic in the second half."
After Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones for a 68-yard touchdown pass to put Buffalo up 21-7, the Bills collapsed.
Brady responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive by hitting Danny Woodhead for a 17-yard touchdown, and then tied the game on a 4-yard run. By the time it was over, the Patriots produced 580 yards, the fourth-most in team history, and the second-most ever allowed by Buffalo.
Bills coach Chan Gailey was embarrassed.
"I don't like to play like that, and I don't like to think that's who we are," Gailey said. "But that's who we were today. You can't sugarcoat it."
The news gets even worse as Buffalo enters a stretch in which it will play four of its next five on the road.
Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn and starting right guard Kraig Urbik both hurt their right ankles and did not return. Gailey said both could miss games.
NOTES: Bills RBs Fred Jackson (sprained knee) and C.J. Spiller (left shoulder) split time in the backfield while coming back from injuries. ... The 52 points allowed by Buffalo were the most since a 56-10 loss to New England on Nov. 18, 2007. ... Fitzpatrick finished 22 of 39 for 350 yards and four scores — including two to Scott Chandler — and four interceptions. ...The win was the 194th of Belichick's career, moving him into eighth place on the NFL list, one ahead of Chuck Knox.
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