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