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