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