FOXBOROUGH — They might not have come right out and said it, 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, receiver Brandon Lloyd never broke stride, blowing past the Texans who bit on the run possibility. He caught Brady’s pass without a defender near him, coasting into the end zone and pushing the Patriots’ lead to 14-0 in a game they would win handily, 42-14, Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
“That was definitely a scheme play,” Lloyd said. “We worked hard on that all week, and when the opportunity presented itself, Coach [Josh] McDaniels called it at the right time and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Lloyd took advantage of his opportunities, catching seven passes for 89 yards, his second-highest total of the season.
He scored two touchdowns, the second coming on a fumble recovery in the end zone, after Danny Woodhead lost the ball on a screen pass. The ball bounced forward, with Lloyd diving on it. Not how it’s drawn up, but the way the night went.
“Just a screen pass, we do our best to block downfield, and unfortunately the ball popped out,” Lloyd said. “But we were there to make the play.”
All lined up
Since the start of the season, the Patriots’ depth chart on the offensive line read more like a wish list than a realistic starting lineup, with an assortment of injuries resulting in five different combinations.
For the first time in a month, and just the sixth time this season, the Patriots began the game with the five players who are designated by the team as its starters: Nate Solder at left tackle, Logan Mankins at left guard, Ryan Wendell at center, Dan Connolly at right guard, and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle.
The group was made whole again with the return of Mankins, who had missed three consecutive games — and five of six — with ankle and calf injuries. He was back at practice last week, in a limited role, but was in the starting lineup Monday night, relegating Donald Thomas to reserve status.
Another key starter also returned from injury, with rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, back after sitting out two games with an ankle injury.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski missed his third straight game with a broken forearm. The other inactive players were offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Markus Zusevics, defensive linemen Jake Bequette and Ron Brace, safety Derrick Martin, and fullback James Develin, who was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Nov. 28, but has yet to play.
Bolden: Return man
The Patriots made the expected move official roughly three hours before kickoff, 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, a rookie from Mississippi, was suspended by the NFL on Nov. 9 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He hadn’t played since Oct. 14 at Seattle, when he injured a knee against the Seahawks. The injury cost him two games, then the suspension added four more.
With 234 yards on 43 carries, Bolden came into the Texans game with the second-most rushing yards for the Patriots, and his 5.4-yard average led the team. Stevan Ridley has been the workhorse since Bolden was forced out, gaining 486 yards in the six games Bolden missed.
Bolden declined interview requests Saturday, the first time he had been spotted in the locker room since the suspension was announced. But he was ready to talk after the game, in which he played on special teams and got two late carries for 11 yards.
“Felt good,” Bolden said. “Missing four weeks, you try not to get out of shape, you keep yourself active, it felt good getting out there for the first time.”
As for the suspension?
“It was a mistake. Saddened that it happened, but the team kept going, so just got to keep moving forward,” Bolden said. “Worked as hard as I could for as long as I could, 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. The last team to force at least one turnover in every regular-season game was the 2010 Atlanta Falcons.
With the interception, the Patriots have now forced 34 takeaways, one behind the Chicago Bears. Their plus-24 turnover differential continues to lead the league.Continued...