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