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