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