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