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