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