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