- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When the Jets cut Danny Woodhead back in September, it wasn't clear if they thought it would be permanent. The Division II record-setter, brought in as an undrafted free agent in 2008, had survived while many more highly touted players were lopped off the roster.
But as the Jets prepared to face the Patriots in Week 2 without wide receiver Santonio Holmes, general manager Mike Tannenbaum opted to bring back wideout David Clowney. To create room on the roster, he waived an extra running back -- Woodhead.
"Anytime you let a guy go, you think there's a reasonable chance you're going to bring him back," Tannenbaum said.
But Woodhead got picked up as a free agent after he cleared waivers -- by New England. Since it happened in the leadup to the first meeting with the Jets, there was jovial speculation that Woodhead was spending hours being grilled in a room with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Woodhead's arrival in New England couldn't have been better timed. Against the Jets, in a game Woodhead spent on the sideline, starting running back Kevin Faulk tore his ACL. Woodhead was a ready-made replacement, and has been proving himself ever since.
"He's a great kid," Tannenbaum said. "His success isn't surprising to any of us. When it happens in your division, that's not something you want to have happen, but it did. It adds to the challenge."
That familiar face will be across the line of scrimmage when the Jets head to New England next Monday for the second of two regular-season meetings. The Jets won the first game, 28-14.
Woodhead would not have had the same success if he were still a Jet. Behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, Woodhead would have seen time only during special teams or in the occasional third-down situation.
"They just run their offense a little different than we do," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He's perfect for what they do. Kevin Faulk had that role for years and was so successful. Danny Woodhead is doing a great job doing that."
In nine games with the Patriots, Woodhead has 344 rushing yards on 64 carries and 230 receiving yards on 24 catches. He's averaging 5.4 yards per carry and 9.6 yards a catch. He has four touchdowns, including one scoring reception.
"It was more of a situational thing than Danny couldn't play," Jets safety Jim Leonhard said. "Everyone in this locker room knew that he could play. The coaches knew he could play, obviously. They thought very highly of him. He got to New England and Kevin Faulk got hurt and he goes right into that role, being a third-down back and they're running the ball well with him."
Woodhead still has plenty of friends on the team, including tight end Dustin Keller, who came to the Jets as a first-round draft pick the year Woodhead arrived.
"I think the Patriots got a steal with him," Keller said.
Jets safety Eric Smith talked to Woodhead after the Pats' win over the Colts, when Woodhead had 90 offensive yards and a touchdown.
"As much as they use their backs and his ability to run routes and option routes and take advantage of the matchups, it's good for him," Smith said. "He's doing a great job."
As glad as his former teammates are to see Woodhead doing well, they aren't looking to have it happen next Monday night.
"I'm excited for him, I'm glad that he's doing well," Braylon Edwards said. "But we can't have that this week. We don't want him going wild on us."
So for the next few days, it's all business, even among friends who text every few days.
"Hopefully he doesn't do well when we're playing him, hopefully he gets dominated," Keller said. "But that's my guy and every other game except when they're playing us, I wish you the best."
The Jets are glad Danny Woodhead has found success. That changes Monday.