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