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