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