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