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