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