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