FOXBOROUGH — It’s not simply a personality trait of Danny Woodhead’s to shun the negative and embrace the positive. His production on the football field almost always follows suit.
Those who have watched Woodhead this season have seen the pride of North Platte, Neb., set a career high for touchdowns (seven) in his third year with the Patriots. They’ve seen him become the first Patriot since Kevin Faulk in 2008 to join the 40-40 club, with at least 40 carries and 40 receptions in the same season; Woodhead has 76 rushes and 40 catches.
They’ve seen Woodhead pile up 747 yards on the season: 301 on the ground, 446 through the air. Not bad, but not as good as his first year with the Patriots in 2010, when he gained 926 all-purpose yards in only 14 games, after being released one game into the season by the Jets, then quickly signed by their division rivals.
Woodhead has been dependable ever since, staying healthy, earning a start every so often, taking advantage of the plays the Patriots call for him, gaining yards. Almost always gaining yards.
“That’s definitely the goal, but you also have 10 other guys doing their job, and without them you’re not going to get a positive play,” Woodhead said. “I try to approach every play the same: to go out and do my responsibility to the best of my ability.”
If it seems Woodhead gains yards every single time he carries the ball or catches it, that’s not correct. But it’s not far off.
Question: In his 116 regular-season touches this year, how many negative-yardage plays was Woodhead responsible for?
The short list: A 9-yard rushing loss on a third-and-6 play in the third quarter against the Cardinals in Week 2; a 4-yard rushing loss on a first-and-10 play in the fourth quarter against the Ravens in Week 3; a 2-yard loss on a fourth-quarter pass from Tom Brady against the Dolphins in Week 13; and a 3-yard loss on a first-quarter pass from Brady against the 49ers in Week 15.
That’s it. Just four times in 116 chances. Roughly 3 percent of the time, Woodhead was brought down behind the line of scrimmage. Every other touch has brought positive yardage.
“Danny is as consistent of a worker as we have,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “He comes into the building every day and really does a great job of studying the opponent, studies his game plan and his role in it.”
Those who grew accustomed to seeing Faulk as a run/catch threat for the Patriots, especially on third down, should see a resemblance in Woodhead. Strong enough to push a pile for a few extra yards, quick enough to separate from a linebacker on a short pass route, smart enough to make the right reads and maximize open space. A leader, mostly by example.
“He knows more than his responsibility on every play, which I think is a valuable asset to have. He does a great job of carrying out his assignment,” McDaniels said. “He’s a dependable player, and if you can use that word about any player, I think that’s a great thing for your team and certainly for our offense.
“Danny is unselfish. He goes in when he’s told to go in and does his job to the best of his ability every single play. Usually, the results are very positive for us.”
Woodhead isn’t the featured back; Stevan Ridley has roughly four times as many carries (290) and four times the yards (1,263). But he’s not the dual threat Woodhead is. None of the other running backs are, either. Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden have 16 receptions this year. Combined.
Faulk wasn’t the featured back, either, but he created a valuable role that Woodhead has seemingly stepped into, with similar success.
“I don’t know if I’ve looked too much into that,” Woodhead said, when asked about the similarities. “Kevin’s a great guy, he’s a good friend, he was an awesome teammate to me, and he’s definitely someone I can talk to about anything.”
Woodhead is playing some of his best football of the season as the Patriots embark on yet another playoff run. They’ll watch the AFC wild-card games this weekend, which will determine their Jan. 13 opponent at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round. If Houston beats Cincinnati Saturday, the Texans are headed to Foxborough for a rematch of a regular-season game won by the Patriots, 42-14. A Bengals win means the Indianapolis-Baltimore winner heads north.
The 59-24 win over the Colts Nov. 18 is the only game this season in which Woodhead was shut out: no carries, no catches. He had a season-high 61 rushing yards on 12 attempts in the loss three weeks ago to the 49ers, and a season-high 79 receiving yards (on five catches) in the regular-season finale last Sunday against the Dolphins. Add in 18 rushing yards, and the 97 all-purpose yards are the most for Woodhead since a 125-yard game against Buffalo on Dec. 26, 2010.
“Whatever I’m asked to do,” Woodhead said. “If I’m asked to run the ball, I’ll do whatever I can to do my best, and if I’m asked to run a route and catch the ball, I’m willing to do that also. Whatever the coaches ask.”
They’ve asked him to do a little bit of everything. He’s not a bruising, every-down back (he’s had more than eight carries just twice this season), but he uses his 5-foot-8-inch frame to his advantage, slinking behind bigger linemen, slithering through the smallest opening.
“When you’re small, you can do that,” Woodhead said. “I try to take what God has given me and do the best I can. I’m obviously blessed to have awesome coaches and teammates with me.”
With the playoffs looming, Woodhead is focused on what’s in his control. Not his contract status (his two-year extension ends this season), not his season so far, not how he might be underappreciated, especially beyond the Gillette Stadium locker room.
“That’s not something I ever think of,” said Woodhead. “I just try to go out and do my job every day. I’m not worried about the outside.
“Everyone [here] is just concerned with doing their job, and I like that, because I’m just concerned with doing my job.”