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