THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

He helped more than a little bit

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / September 27, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH -- Nattering nabobs of negativity will find fault with yesterday's 38-30 Patriots victory over the oft-buffeted Bills. Cynics will note that few fans left early (Brady Gaga's complaint after Week 1) because the Patriots never went out to a 21-point lead. Haters will claim we still don't know anything about the 2010 team because we haven't seen it beat a good team on the road.

Not me. Today this is the happy place, the no-fault zone. Today we bring you the Ballad of Danny Woodhead, the little engine that could.

The Patriots signed the Wood-man Sept. 18 and yesterday he carried the ball three times for 42 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown jaunt in the second quarter. It was the first TD of Woodhead's career and it came less than two weeks after Woodhead played for the Jets in New York's Monday night debacle against the Ravens.

Woodhead is generously listed as 5 feet 9 inches tall.

Baloney. Woodhead is Dustin Pedroia. He is Nate Robinson. He is an NFL end table. If you found yourself standing next to him at the CBS Scene, you might set your drink down on his head and continue your conversation without noticing.

Here's Randy Moss on Woodhead: "I like Woody. He's a little stub guy, a little short. He runs hard and has some nice cuts. I'm not disrespecting him and I know it's hard to replace Kevin Faulk . . . we liked the things that we saw out there.''

A reporter asked quarterback Tom Brady, "There's just no way to stop a guy like Danny Woodhead, is there?''

"If you can see him back there,'' kidded the quarterback. "It's hard. 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.''

About 25 media members surrounded Woodhead's locker after his Patriot debut. When a reporter asked him if he was able to "hide'' behind the offensive linemen, he answered, "I'm probably hiding behind you guys.''

I can't confirm that it was Woodhead who made the joke about himself because I could not actually see him behind the other reporters. Now I know what it was like for Bills linebackers to spot Woodhead lining up in the New England backfield.

He went to Chadron State in Nebraska and was not drafted after grinding out 9,749 all purpose yards (7,962 rushing) and winning back-to-back Harlon Hill trophies as the nation's best Division 2 player. Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum signed him as a free agent in 2008 and he spent that season on the Jets' injured reserve list. He got into 10 regular-season games and two playoff games with the 2009 Jets, rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries. He caught eight passes for 87 yards and made six special teams tackles.

When the Jets allowed HBO into the inner sanctum this summer, Woody was a "Hard Knocks'' hero. But he was waived one day after making a special teams tackle in the Jets' abysmal opening-game loss on "Monday Night Football.''

When the Patriots announced they'd acquired Woodhead on the eve of their grudge match at the Meadowlands, it was widely assumed they were just signing him as a double agent. It's an old NFL trick. Pick up a guy so you can steal what he knows of your opponent's playbook.

Woodhead's reluctance to disclose his whereabouts last Sunday does little to discourage the notion that he was brought on board as a Jet spy.

We tried to break him with polite questioning.

It seemed simple enough. Woodhead was a Jet. He became a Patriot the day before the Patriots played the Jets, but he was not active for that game. So where did he watch the game?

"I was sitting in a hotel room,'' he said. "Just here. Getting ready for the Bills.''

After the pack dispersed from his locker area (Woodhead has Laurence Maroney's locker, in addition to Maroney's old No. 39), I double-checked, just to make sure I'd heard him right.

So where were you when you watched the Jets beat the Patriots? In New England or in New Jersey?

"I'd rather not get into it,'' he said politely.

Hmmmm. Maybe he was locked away in some secret Patriot war room, wearing a headset, spilling Jets secrets to the Patriots' sideline.

"I want to help the team any way I can,'' the propulsive back said. "In games, in practice, in the meeting room.''

When Faulk went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Jets game, Woodhead became much more than a secret agent man. And yesterday -- making his first NFL start -- he seamlessly blended into the complex Patriots offense. His second-quarter touchdown run was electric and his 15-yard gain on third and 5 (a Faulk down) in the fourth quarter set up New England's final TD.

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

Do your job. Credit the team. It's the Patriot way. We haven't had a new cult hero at Gillette in a while.

"Danny really did a good job,'' said coach Bill Belichick. "He came in here and really started grinding through it on Monday and Tuesday -- the off day -- and Wednesday. He picked it up pretty quickly. He seems like a smart guy.''

"That's the great thing about the guys in this locker room and the organization and the coaches,'' said Woodhead. "They made me feel comfortable right from the beginning and it's made things a lot easier.''

Woodhead was asked about how tough it was to "get this far.'' NFL rosters are not stocked with undrafted 5-9 Division 2 players.

"It's been the game I love to play,'' he said. "I work hard at the thing I love to do. Maybe there's been some obstacles, but I never look at the past. I just do what I'm doing right now.''

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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