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