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