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