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