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