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