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