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