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