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