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