By Michael Whitmer | Globe Staff
FOXBOROUGH — They might not have come right out and said it, adalat but the Patriots were fully aware of the attention given to the Houston Texans and their preference for play-action passes on offense.
So when quarterback Tom Brady perfectly sold a handoff the second time the Patriots had the ball, adalat receiver Brandon Lloyd never broke stride, adalat blowing past the Texans who bit on the run possibility. Adalat He caught Brady’s pass without a defender near him, adalat coasting into the end zone and pushing the Patriots’ lead to 14-0 in a game they would win handily, adalat 42-14, adalat Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
“That was definitely a scheme play, adalat” Lloyd said. Adalat “We worked hard on that all week, adalat and when the opportunity presented itself, adalat Coach [Josh] McDaniels called it at the right time and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Lloyd took advantage of his opportunities, adalat catching seven passes for 89 yards, adalat his second-highest total of the season.
He scored two touchdowns, adalat the second coming on a fumble recovery in the end zone, adalat after Danny Woodhead lost the ball on a screen pass. Adalat The ball bounced forward, adalat with Lloyd diving on it. Adalat Not how it’s drawn up, adalat but the way the night went.
“Just a screen pass, adalat we do our best to block downfield, adalat and unfortunately the ball popped out, adalat” Lloyd said. Adalat “But we were there to make the play.”
All lined up
Since the start of the season, adalat the Patriots’ depth chart on the offensive line read more like a wish list than a realistic starting lineup, adalat with an assortment of injuries resulting in five different combinations.
For the first time in a month, adalat and just the sixth time this season, adalat the Patriots began the game with the five players who are designated by the team as its starters: Nate Solder at left tackle, adalat Logan Mankins at left guard, adalat Ryan Wendell at center, adalat Dan Connolly at right guard, adalat and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.
The group was made whole again with the return of Mankins, adalat who had missed three consecutive games — and five of six — with ankle and calf injuries. Adalat He was back at practice last week, adalat in a limited role, adalat but was in the starting lineup Monday night, adalat relegating Donald Thomas to reserve status.
Another key starter also returned from injury, adalat with rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, adalat back after sitting out two games with an ankle injury.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed his third straight game with a broken forearm. Adalat The other inactive players were offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics, adalat defensive linemen Jake Bequette and Ron Brace, adalat safety Derrick Martin, adalat and fullback James Develin, adalat who was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Nov. Adalat 28, adalat but has yet to play.
Bolden: Return man
The Patriots made the expected move official roughly three hours before kickoff, adalat activating Brandon Bolden to the 53-man roster and making him eligible to play against the Texans after the running back served a four-game suspension.
Bolden, adalat a rookie from Mississippi, adalat was suspended by the NFL on Nov. Adalat 9 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Adalat He hadn’t played since Oct. Adalat 14 at Seattle, adalat when he injured a knee against the Seahawks. Adalat The injury cost him two games, adalat then the suspension added four more.
With 234 yards on 43 carries, adalat Bolden came into the Texans game with the second-most rushing yards for the Patriots, adalat and his 5.4-yard average led the team. Adalat Stevan Ridley has been the workhorse since Bolden was forced out, adalat gaining 486 yards in the six games Bolden missed.
Bolden declined interview requests Saturday, adalat the first time he had been spotted in the locker room since the suspension was announced. Adalat But he was ready to talk after the game, adalat in which he played on special teams and got two late carries for 11 yards.
“Felt good, adalat” Bolden said. Adalat “Missing four weeks, adalat you try not to get out of shape, adalat you keep yourself active, adalat it felt good getting out there for the first time.”
As for the suspension?
“It was a mistake. Adalat Saddened that it happened, adalat but the team kept going, adalat so just got to keep moving forward, adalat” Bolden said. Adalat “Worked as hard as I could for as long as I could, adalat make sure I don’t fall too far off.”
Turning their way
Devin McCourty’s end-zone interception on Houston’s second offensive series of the game extended the Patriots’ streak of forcing at least one turnover to 24 games. Adalat The last team to force at least one turnover in every regular-season game was the 2010 Atlanta Falcons.
With the interception, adalat the Patriots have now forced 34 takeaways, adalat one behind the Chicago Bears. Adalat Their plus-24 turnover differential continues to lead the league.
“We know we have a good defense here, adalat we’ve played really well the last couple of weeks, adalat” McCourty said. Adalat “The biggest focus for us is just trying to build on that.”
Even when the Patriots fumbled the bounces went their way. Adalat Ridley lost the ball on the Patriots’ first drive of the game, adalat inside the Texans’ 5-yard-line, adalat but Aaron Hernandez jumped on it to extend the drive. Adalat On the next play, adalat Hernandez caught a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Early in the fourth quarter, adalat Woodhead fumbled after catching a screen pass and being hit from behind by J.J. Adalat Watt. Adalat The ball flew into the end zone, adalat with Lloyd diving on it for an unlikely touchdown.
Handing out Hall passes
If you’re a Patriots fan who’s never been to Canton, adalat Ohio, adalat and visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame, adalat Canton is coming to you this week. Adalat Well, adalat at least it’s coming to Foxborough. Adalat In recognition of the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary, adalat the busts of the five former Patriots who have been enshrined — John Hannah, adalat Andre Tippett, adalat Nick Buoniconti, adalat Mike Haynes, adalat and Curtis Martin — will be on display at the Hall at Patriot Place.
The weeklong celebration will culminate with Sunday night’s home game against the San Francisco 49ers, adalat with Tippett, adalat Haynes, adalat and Martin serving as honorary captains.
One downside to the Patriots’ victory was injuries to the defensive secondary. Adalat The Patriots announced injuries to Aqib Talib (hip) and Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring). Adalat Neither returned to the game after getting injured . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat With Julian Edelman out for the season with a foot injury, adalat Wes Welker took over the Patriots’ punt return duties. Adalat He returned four for 50 yards, adalat with a long of 31 . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat Welker also caught three passes, adalat pushing his streak of consecutive regular-season games with a catch to 107 . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat Donte Stallworth made the most of his return to the Patriots. Adalat He caught only one pass from Brady, adalat but the catch-and-run went for 63 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter, adalat making it 28-0. Adalat It was a case of practice makes perfect, adalat even if the practice had been a while ago. Adalat “That particular play is something we had worked on, adalat even in the spring, adalat’’ he said. Adalat “It was just an opportunity where they were kind of flat-footed and it gave me an opportunity to run by the guy and Tommy made a great throw. Adalat He put it up for me to catch it and that’s what I did.’’ . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat His team off until Wednesday, adalat Celtics coach Doc Rivers was spotted on the sideline observing pregame warmups, adalat wearing a Patriots red sweater and chatting up his Patriots counterpart, adalat Bill Belichick. Adalat Also in on the conversation: Boston sports fan Mark Wahlberg. Adalat Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was also at the game, adalat wearing a No. Adalat 83 Patriots jersey . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat The Patriots extended their December winning streak to 13 games, adalat dating to a 22-21 loss at Miami on Dec. Adalat 6, adalat 2009. Adalat It ties the Patriots for the second-longest such streak with the Dallas Cowboys, adalat who accomplished the feat from 1968-72. Adalat The record belongs to the San Diego Chargers, adalat winners of 18 straight from 2006-09. Adalat New England also has won 21 straight games in the second half of the regular season. Adalat The Patriots went 8-0 in the second half of 2010, adalat 8-0 in 2011, adalat and have won their first five this season. Adalat The last loss from the back half of the schedule came in the regular-season finale in 2009, adalat when the Patriots lost at Houston, adalat 34-27 … In a pre-game Twitter message, adalat self-described Patriots fan Donald Trump posted, adalat “Good Luck to Bob Kraft, adalat Tom Brady and Coach Bob Belichick tonight.” Needless to say, adalat the Donald got plenty of unwanted attention for his fumble . Adalat . Adalat . Adalat Keep an eye out for Jerod Mayo on Tuesday. Adalat He’ll be joining Subway spokesman Jared Fogle during multiple appearances around town, adalat thanking unassuming fans with a dozen acts of kindness.
Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Adalat Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.