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