By: Steve Balestrieri
When the New England Patriots found themselves down 28 points on Sunday night to the 49ers they turned to Tom Brady to attempt to right the ship, and rightfully so. But a possible overlooked aspect of the game was the Patriots bringing in Danny Woodhead to solidify things in the backfield.
Brady did most of the work through the air passing for 377 yards and a touchdown in the second half as the Patriots roared back to tie the game at 31 before ultimately falling the 49ers 41-34.
On a cold, rainy night, both of the Patriots young running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen put the ball on the ground and each turnover resulted in San Francisco having the ball in prime position to score. It was Patriots football in reverse and the team dug a hole that it couldn’t escape.
But the part of the comeback that fell short that isn’t being talked about was the play of the diminutive Woodhead. While possessing neither the size of Ridley nor the speed of Vereen, Woodhead remains a most valuable, clutch player. He entered and immediately began paying dividends as he was the Patriots leading rusher with 12 carries for 61 yards and 2 TDs as well as chipping in with 5 receptions out of the backfield.
More and more he’s morphing into the Kevin Faulk role for the Patriots offense. He can run, catch and block. And he’s always ready to enter the game on a moment’s notice when his number is called. Sunday was another fine example in that.
Woodhead was arguably the best man in a Patriots uniform during the Super Bowl against the Giants in February so no stage is too big for the running back from tiny Chadron State. He and Wes Welker are proof that to excel in the NFL one need not have freakish size or run with the velocity of a cheetah.
Tom Brady asked the question back in November, how did the Jets ever let Woodhead go? And there is no easy answer, but Brady added this during an interview with WEEI in November. “He’s just come in and done such a great job. He’s the ultimate team player and teammate — dependable, consistent, you always know the level of play you’re getting from Danny.”
Perhaps the best answer is the Jets didn’t want to admit they may have made a mistake with the selection of Joe McKnight and Woodhead was cut loose. The Jets loss has been the Patriots gain.
While there is no need to panic on the merits of either Ridley or Vereen, Ridley will still be the back getting the lion share of the work for the Pats. Remember the Niners put the ball on the ground six times Sunday night in the nasty weather. However, it should be comforting to Patriots fans to know that if either one falters down the stretch, the “little big man” will be waiting for his chance to get some snaps. And he’ll do just fine.