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