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