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