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