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