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