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