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