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