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