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