FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- They prey on slights, real or imagined, marinating in their resolve so it can fester quietly, privately and in complete concert with one another.
Inform the New England Patriots they are weak against the run and they will dutifully await the opportunity to make that declaration -- born of legitimate statistical evidence, mind you -- a statement of pure folly.
When you suggest the Miami Dolphins have new life under wunderkind (and boot-camp poster boy) coach Dan Campbell, and that maybe -- just maybe -- they will prove to be the formidable division opponent for the seemingly impenetrable Patriots, the guys in the silver helmets with that new-wave American nationalist logo might as well execute a collective shrug.
Been there. Heard that.
So ... never mind. It was a quaint storyline, those upstart fishies sporting the teal trim and visions of slaying the dragon, but New England has no time or interest in contributing to anyone else's narrative. The Patriots have their own ideas of what this season means to them, whether or not they choose to share that with the collective masses.
You want physicality? You want to see a true Oklahoma drill? Then take notes while the Patriots' defense batters running back Lamar Miller -- the guy who rushed for 175 yards last week -- into complete and total submission. (Miller finished this game -- a 36-7 Patriots victory -- with 15 yards in 9 carries).
Watch how New England's defense harasses Miami's not-quite-ready-for-prime-time quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who had completed 25 consecutive passes as recently as four days ago, but on this night was harried into wayward throws, poor decisions and damning interceptions.
The Dolphins had averaged 41 points in the two games since former coach Joe Philbin was kicked to the curb, but here's how it went in Foxborough: Of Miami's first 18 plays of the game, 11 of them yielded zero or negative yards.
"Whoever was out there, we were ready to put some pads on them,'' Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch said. "We heard all the same stuff you guys been reporting, how they've changed their ways be a more physical team.
"The last two games they started quick and basically landslided forward the offense, gaining yardage any way they wanted. We wanted to stop them in the first two series so that didn't [happen again].''
Stuffing the run made it harder to throw when Miami fell behind. Tannehill departed Thursday night with an updated career record of 0-4 with three touchdowns and seven interceptions here. So often the offense is the headliner for these New England Patriots, but this time, the defense took a bow.
"They know what they need to do,'' Campbell said. "Knowing they have the quarterback they have, the [defense] can be whoever they need to be for their team.''
Don't flog yourselves too much, Dolphins fans. All that really transpired Thursday night was your rejuvenated football franchise was bulldozed by the best team in football.
And here's the truly spooky part: New England hasn't come close yet to reaching its peak.
There's a purpose about this group of Patriots that is unmistakable, eerily similar to the unit that unleashed its steadfast assault on the 2007 season, when a scandal dubbed SpyGate threatened to sully their well-earned legacy.
Here's why Deflategate is a smidge different: it's personal for Tom Brady, the architect of this 2015 banner start, the lone remaining member aside from trusty kicker Stephen Gostkowski who absorbed the slings and arrows of Spygate.
"The most remarkable part about this 7-0 Patriots start is they are winning with a ravaged offensive line that is being held together by Band-Aids and bubble gum."
This is his fight, his redemption. His teammates have his back, that much is obvious, but it's not their integrity that has been questioned.
Brady has already thrown for 2,410 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He has thrown only one interception and it wasn't even his fault. His lone "miscue" was the result of Julian Edelman's bobbling a pass that popped into the hands of Colts safety Mike Adams.
The most remarkable part about this 7-0 Patriots start, which has been predictably understated by everyone from the coach to the quarterback to the locker room attendants (no, not those locker room attendants), is they are winning with a ravaged offensive line that is being held together by Band-Aids and bubble gum.
Remember Bryan Stork, the mammoth center who was a major contributor as a rookie on a stout offensive line last season? Stork hasn't played a down this year because of a concussion, although he's eligible to return next week against Washington.
Veteran tackle Nate Solder isn't walking through that door because he was put on injured reserve. His backup, Marcus Cannon, was lauded by coach Bill Belichick for stepping in so effectively, but Cannon missed Thursday night's game because of a toe injury. Rookie Shaq Mason showed some chops before, he, too, retreated to the sidelines because of a knee injury.
Thus, the Patriots had only six healthy offensive lineman available to protect Brady, and two of them -- David Andrews and Tre' Jackson -- were rookies. By the end of the night, they were down to five, with Jackson leaving the game after injuring his knee.
The offensive line could be a major issue, because let's be candid, this team has Super Bowl aspirations only if Brady remains upright.
New England fully expected the liberated Cameron Wake and his boys to apply as much pressure as possible on Brady, since it has been statistically documented that if you force him into hurried throws, his accuracy dips precipitously.
And yet, in the opening minutes, when the Dolphins had occasion to set the tone defensively, Brady had so much time he could have drawn his kids a bath and kissed Gisele goodnight before he released the ball.
Miami got to him eventually, but it didn't stop him from throwing for 356 yards and four touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 133.2. Brady will never -- ever -- articulate how motivated he is to parcel together the best season of his remarkable career, deflated footballs be damned, while the team is in the throes of its quest to win back-to-back Super Bowls, but his actions speak volumes.
He connected with seven different receivers, none more prolific than Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 113 yards), the most nightmarish matchup in football.
In case you are contemplating whether I am overstating the undercurrent of revenge, consider the halftime comments of owner Robert Kraft during a tribute to former Patriot Willie McGinest. "There's nothing more satisfying than saddling the Indianapolis Colts with a loss,'' Kraft declared, as the crowd roared.
It was Colts general manager Ryan Grigson, after all, who demanded the league look into the psi levels of the Patriots footballs, and it was the Baltimore Ravens who alerted the Colts to the possibility those balls might be unusually deflated. New England's good karma in this NFL season has been enhanced by the struggles of the 3-4 Colts and the utter collapse of the 1-6 Ravens.
The Dolphins really didn't have anything to do with Deflategate, although former Miami coach Don Shula can't seem to resist tweaking the Patriots by referring to the Hoodie as "Beli-cheat.''
It's more of the same, really. It's the Patriots against the world, as long as Belichick is the coach and Kraft is the owner and Brady is the quarterback. They thrive in hostile environments, real or imagined, and excel when anyone suggests they haven't come by their excellence honestly.
Of course, there's no point in discussing these matters aloud. It's simply not their style. It's one game at a time, all the way to Santa Clara.
"It's a work in progress,'' said Edelman, who hauled in 7 catches for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns. "It's just about going out there and hammering away, hammering that nail all the way in.
"That's what Coach [Belichick] always says, 'Just hammer away, because if you don't you're going to be stubbing your toe on the floor with the nail sticking out.'"
New England's offense was far from perfect Thursday night. The Patriots struggled to punch the ball in the end zone in the first half and relied on their defense to stem the tide while they worked out the kinks.
The final score eliminated the need to mention those early-game warts, although you can be sure Belichick is splicing them together as we speak.
In the relative quiet of a workmanlike Patriots locker room afterward, Edelman was asked if the win was a "statement" game.
"It's hard to win every week,'' he said. "You can't afford to go and choke off a game in this sport because there's only 16 of them. Every game is so valuable. ... It wasn't a statement game. It was the next game.''
Just like in 2007.