The outside world wasn't ever buying the whole dual-purpose mission statement Sean McDermott kept trying to sell before the season.
You're either building for the future or you're trying to win now. Or so the outside world believed.
What it didn't believe was that the Bills, by trading away big names such as Sammy Watkins and Marcell Dareus, had any interest in the present. What it didn't believe was that they would be where they were after Sunday's 24-16 victory against the Miami Dolphins: 8-6 and 6-2 at home for the first time since 1999.
The players? In a dressing room that projected far more of a business-like than giddy tone, they insisted that it was what they expected all along.
"It is no surprise," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Day in and day out, you spend the time with these guys. you see the way they work. You see the way they care about their teammates and the way they care about preparing.
"Everybody wants to win, but not everybody is willing to prepare. These guys are willing to prepare. These guys are willing to get ready and pay the cost Monday through Saturday."
That's the difference. That's what players such as Williams and linebacker Preston Brown and other incumbents see in this version of the Bills compared to earlier editions on which they played.
Those teams either lacked what it took in talent or focus or both to get to where the current Bills are. And the current Bills, who are one spot behind the Baltimore Ravens for the second wild-card berth, remain in striking distance to do something the franchise hasn't done in 17 seasons: reach the postseason.
"Yeah, the city deserves this," Brown said. "They deserve to be in the playoff hunt and it is great that we finally are doing it. We know what we got to do. We got to continue to win games. We got to go to New England next week and get a big win."
The Bills took care of business against the Dolphins primarily on the strength of a strong first half by Tyrod Taylor, some complementary running by LeSean McCoy, and a defense that took advantage of Jay Cutler reverting to the quarterback Miami fans wished they didn't have before his Monday Night Football heroics against New England in Week 14.
Taylor threw for 165 yards and a touchdown, and ran for a nine-yard score in leading the Bills to a 21-6 halftime lead. He would finish with 224 passing yards and 42 yards rushing in an outing that was solid enough to get the job done.
Same for McCoy, who ran for 50 yards to reach the 10,000-yard milestone for his career and produced a pair of TDs (on a four-yard run and a 16-yard catch). Same for the defense, which, in limiting the Dolphins to three field goals and a touchdown, intercepted Cutler three times. The third, by rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White, sealed the game after Miami recovered an onside kick after closing to within eight points with 39 seconds left on the clock.
To a man, Bills players brought up those wobbly final seconds when they allowed the Dolphins to get one more shot at victory. They lamented not closing the game out sooner.
"This is when football starts to matter and I think, as we go back and watch the tape, guys will start to understand one or two plays here and there and the game could have swung differently," defensive end Jerry Hughes said. "So I think once guys kind of pick that up, we'll learn from it."
But the fact the Bills did close the game out is what counts and what — along with some of the things they've shown in other games and in other phases — convinces most of the players they have the makings of a club that merits being in the playoffs even beyond what the math says.
What makes this late-season run so hopeful?
"Just the way the team is so resilient," Hughes said. "Just thinking about last week's game and how the Colts were able to score late and it would have been so easy just to throw in the towel and give up, but we kept fighting in the snow in overtime. Coming in here today, it would have been so easy to give up once we missed the onside kick, but, no, we came back and we fought and Tre ended the game perfectly.
"It just goes to show you how there's so much fight in us, that we have so much left, we're not ready to just give up."
The Bills could make things a bit simpler for themselves by winning their next two games, on Christmas Eve at New England and on New Year's Eve at Miami. That would put them at 10-6 and give them their greatest chance of clinching a playoff spot.
"We know what other teams got to do," Brown said. "But we can't really worry about it. If we go 10-6, hopefully we will be in. We got to continue to keep finding ways to keep winning these games."
That's a quality McCoy didn't see during his previous two seasons on the Bills. When he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, he was part of clubs that understood what was necessary to win.
And it wasn't all about what was done on game day. It was making certain to do the work between games — to make thorough preparation a priority in the meeting room and the weight room, and on the practice field.
That's what McCoy sees happening this season. He sees players who are every bit as invested in wanting to play beyond New Year's Eve as he is.
"We're finding ways to win," he said. "We're all accountable, guys are really accountable. They come early, they leave late. There's a thing where Coach asks all the players questions to see their preparation for the weekend. Guys are on it.
"Guys are looking at old film on a team, from a year or two years before. That's something I do just because I've been around for nine years, but young guys are doing it. Guys are on time for meetings. It's like they want to be there, they want to win, and they're ready to put everything on the line to do that."