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