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