FOXBORO, Mass. — On a day where Kevin Faulk — a running back whose versatility is deeply entrenched in Patriots lore — was honored at halftime, his successor put on a show that would undoubtedly make him proud.
Danny Woodhead, the heir to Faulk’s third-down back throne in New England, had a Faulk-esque day on Sunday and played a major role in the Patriots’ 37-31 win against the Buffalo Bills.
The diminutive tailback, standing at just 5-foot-8, broke off a number of big plays and scored a pair of touchdowns that helped the Patriots both establish an early lead and keep drives alive late in the game.
His only carry of the afternoon went for a 15-yard touchdown, giving the Patriots their 17-3 cushion early on. But Woodhead was also a big factor in the passing game, hauling in four passes for 46 yards, including an 18-yard score. Tack on his blocking responsibilities — which can be difficult at his disadvantaged height — and special teams duties, and Woodhead’s impact becomes much clearer.
Yet, even with the hefty workload, Woodhead still believes he’s got it easy.
“With those guys [the offensive line] doing their job, I had the easy part and that was just run into the end zone,” Woodhead said of his two scores.
Woodhead knows his role in the Patriots’ offense, and understands how to utilize his skills to best benefit the team. And for Woodhead, as it is with every Patriots player, the team always comes first.
“Team comes so far before myself, and it’s the win that matters. It’s not myself getting two touchdowns,” Woodhead said. “Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do. If it’s blocking, if it’s playing special teams, running, catching, I’m a football player and that’s what I try to be — a football player.”
He’s not just a football player, though, he’s something of a utility man — the Marco Scutaro of the NFL if you will. That sort of versatility doesn’t go unnoticed either. Even Bill Belichick acknowledges the indispensable asset Woodhead has become, and offered up some high praise for him following the win.
“I think Danny is a versatile player. He does a lot of things well. He’s good in the passing game. He’s got a good feel for man and zone coverages and getting open and he does a good job in blitz pickup,” Belichick said. “He runs well, reads his blocks well, he’s got good quickness, he’s got some speed and really he runs strong for a smaller player. He’s got a good skill set, he’s smart, he works hard, always trying to improve and he does that we ask him to do, so he’s got a lot going for him.”
Much like Faulk, Woodhead isn’t just a versatile player on the field, though. As the elder statesman of the Patriots running back quartet, including Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and suspended rookie Brandon Bolden, Woodhead has assumed the leadership role left behind in Faulk’s absence.
“That’s the leader of our room, he’s been there the longest,” Ridley said. “So, when it’s a game time situation, it’s crunch time, you can bet your money that 39 [Woodhead] is going to be in there.”
Ridley may have seen the majority of the work out of the backfield on Sunday, carrying the ball 22 times for 98 yards and a score of his own. But it’s been Woodhead’s leadership that’s helped him develop into one of the premier backs in the NFL this season.
So, while Faulk stood in the Patriots’ end zone, addressing the near 70,000 fans in attendance, Woodhead was in the locker room preparing to fill the post Faulk almost single-handedly established in New England. And it would definitely receive Faulk’s own stamp of approval.
Watch all of Woodhead’s postgame comments in the video below.
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