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