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