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