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