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