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