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