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