Commentary

Danny Woodhead a spark for Patriots

Updated: September 27, 2010, 10:07 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The veteran running backs on the New England Patriots' roster sought out Danny Woodhead this week to help him get acclimated to his new surroundings. And moments before kickoff, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed over to relay one final -- and evidently essential -- piece of information.

If any of New England's running backs were to reach the end zone, Green-Ellis told Woodhead, the protocol for celebration would be a multiway back-bump with the other backs near the Patriots' sideline.

"We taught him that right before the game," Green-Ellis said. "We told him, 'Hey, man, make sure you don't mess this up.'"

Like everything else New England has thrown at Woodhead over the past eight days, the celebration was no problem.

[+] EnlargePatriots
David Butler II/US PresswireA Patriot for only eight days, Danny Woodhead proved to be a quick learner, especially on the celebration following his first career touchdown.

After scoring on a 22-yard run in the second quarter that helped the Patriots top the Buffalo Bills 38-30 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Woodhead rushed right over for the celebratory bumps with Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris.

Not surprisingly, the 5-foot-9 Woodhead came up a bit shorter on the leap than his teammates after his first career touchdown, but Green-Ellis wouldn't mind if that's a recurring issue as long as New England's backs keep finding pay dirt.

"That's something he'll just have to deal with," Green-Ellis said with a big smile.

Woodhead's heroics Sunday, like much of his football career, was the stuff of storybooks. Signed just eight days ago, on the eve of the Patriots' Week 2 battle with the New York Jets, most assumed Woodhead was filling the roster spot opened by Laurence Maroney's departure merely to extract information on the Jets' game plan, as Woodhead spent his first two-plus seasons in the NFL with New York.

Then Kevin Faulk tore his ACL in that very game, leaving the Patriots thin at running back and in need of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Enter Woodhead, who split time as a back and a receiver with the Jets and now has the potential to help fill the big shoes that Faulk's season-ending injury left behind.

Woodhead was the back in seven of the team's 10 total snaps in a three-receiver/one-tight end/one-back package, a set that normally would feature Faulk. It's also the package that generated his 22-yard touchdown run, off a draw play, as well as a 15-yard scamper in the fourth quarter that set up a 7-yard touchdown run by Green-Ellis (a score that helped finally put away the Bills).

Woodhead finished with three carries for 42 yards and seemed almost embarrassed by the media attention as reporters swarmed his locker after he emerged from the showers. He spent most of a 10-minute Q-and-A session heaping praise on his teammates and coaches for easing his transition, then offered all credit for his scoring run to the blockers that paved his way.

"My focus was on being prepared coming into Sunday," Woodhead said. "If you are, when your time does come, things aren't running so fast. Things actually move slower."

Everything moved slower except Woodhead, who drew his first career start Sunday. He didn't get his first carry until early in the second quarter, taking a draw off right tackle for 5 yards.

Later in the quarter, Woodhead capped a six-play, 76-yard drive with a scoring run on which he took another draw off right tackle. He patiently let his blocking develop before cutting back as Bills corner Drayton Florence overpursued, then outracing the other defenders to the end zone.

Woodhead didn't even remember to fetch the souvenir ball, simply tossing it aside in the end zone, then he blew a kiss to the crowd and ran to the sideline for the running back celebration he was schooled on a short time earlier.

"The linemen made great blocks. I did the easy part, which is just run it," Woodhead said when asked to describe his touchdown run. "The linemen did great, and the receivers and the tight ends -- I mean, you can't ask for better blocking as a running back. All I did was try to do my job.

"More than anything, it was good to help the team out. I'm not so concerned with getting my touchdown or whatever. I'm more concerned with getting the victory. We got the victory. That's the most important thing."

The biggest names in the Patriots' locker room went out of their way to praise their smallest star, including:

  • Coach Bill Belichick: "Danny really did a good job. He came in here and really started grinding through it on Monday and then Tuesday -- the off day -- and Wednesday. He had a pretty good week. We put him in practice on Friday and he was pretty good on all of his assignments and everything he had to do. We didn't ask him to do everything, but I think he's working pretty hard at it. He picked it up pretty quickly. He seems like a smart guy."
  • Quarterback Tom Brady: "It's hard [to stop him]. He crouches down. He's tucked in there behind the center. He did great. What an impressive performance for a guy who's been here for 10 minutes. He did a great job."
  • Wide receiver Wes Welker: "He's obviously a really good player. He made a lot of good plays for us, a lot of good runs. It was great to have a guy go out there and take some draw plays that went a good distance for us. ... Some guys have talked about him, the fact he's so small and they can't really see him behind there. He's real quick, and good vision, and he's a pretty powerful guy for his size. He definitely made some good plays for us."
  • Wide receiver Randy Moss: "I like Woody. He's a little stub guy, a little short [guy]. He runs hard and has some nice cuts. I'm not disrespecting him, and I know it's hard to replace Kevin Faulk, but hopefully he can come in and be Woodhead and not try to be Kevin. I think we liked the things we saw out there, not just from him, from an offensive perspective."

Despite the celebrity, Woodhead's locker is as plain as can be. There are no personal effects, just some football pads and a pair of highlighters (appropriate for a highlight-worthy player). There's a good chance someone on the Patriots' sideline thought better of his first career score than Woodhead did and will tuck that ball into his locker this week.

Not only does Woodhead wear Maroney's old No. 39, but he occupies his old stall. Green-Ellis, who owns the neighboring locker and showed Woodhead around Foxborough, knows the old No. 39 and the new No. 39 will rarely be mistaken for each other. But he wouldn't mind if Woodhead could put up the type of production that Maroney never quite sustained before being dealt to Denver.

"It's one of those things, man, it's a different 39," Green-Ellis said. "I think we all have a common goal, not just me and Woody, but all of us putting the team first and coming away with the victory."

Woodhead played his college ball at Division II Chadron State in his native Nebraska, setting an NCAA record for rushing by totaling 7,871 yards in his four seasons, while becoming only the second collegiate player to score more than 100 touchdowns (he finished with 109).

Undrafted, he latched on with the Jets and, despite spending his 2008 rookie season on injured reserve, grew in popularity as part of HBO's "Hard Knocks," the reality show that followed the Jets' training camp this year.

But New York waived him Sept. 14 and the Patriots scooped him up four days later. He stressed that he doesn't have anything to prove, he's just trying to help his team win games.

"That's not really for me to do -- to prove people wrong," Woodhead said. "My job is to be the best player I can be. That's what I continue to do by just doing everything I can to be a better player each day and help this team win games."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics and Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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