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