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