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