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