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