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