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