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