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