Before Jets-Pats was personal for Rex Ryan, it was personal for Danny Woodhead.
Back in the Jets’ Week 13 Monday night matchup in Foxborough, the ex-Jet exacted revenge on Gang Green by catching four balls for 104 yards for New England in the Pats’ 45-3 win.
After the game, Woodhead, reading straight from the Bill Belichick guide to public relations, insisted that he was happy to be a Patriot and that his past history with the Jets didn’t play a role in his performance.
Even though Woodhead wouldn’t say it, finishing with a career-high in receiving yards against his former team had to be sweet.
Woodhead has another chance to stick it to his former employer on Sunday in the Jets-Pats Divisional Round showdown in Gillette Stadium. This time around, the Jets will be sure to keep an eye on Woodhead’s pre-snap position and are likely to take a more physical approach with their former teammate.
Some Jets said on Friday that Woodhead was lost in the shuffle of New England wideouts during a few plays in the Jets’ 45-3 loss.
One example was in the third quarter when Woodhead slipped out of the backfield uncovered to receive a shovel pass from Brady.
Safety Eric Smith said Woodhead was able to turn that short completion it into a 50-yard gain because some Jets defenders were picked during the play and lost sight of the 5-8, 195-pound back. Woodhead also had a 35-yard reception in the second quarter.
“We knew the type of player he was when he was down here and he showed us again,” safety Brodney Pool said.
Woodhead, an undrafted free-agent out of Division II Chadron State, was behind running backs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson on the Jets' depth chart earlier this season, and the team opted to waive him in early September over draft pick Joe McKnight.
Four days after the Jets released Woodhead, he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. At the time, the move was seen by many as a bit of gamesmanship by Belichick, who, the thinking went, would pump Woodhead for information on his former team.
But instead of being simple pawn in the year-round chess match between the Jets and Pats, Woodhead turned into an invaluable piece for the Patriots’ offense.
He finished the regular season with 547 rushing yards (5.6 yards per rush) and 379 receiving yards (11.1 yards per catch).
“We knew he could do that when he was here,” linebacker Bryan Thomas said on Friday.
Neither Pool, Smith nor Thomas said the defense spent any extra time studying Woodhead this week. They also said it would be difficult to predict any of Woodhead’s routes on Sunday based on what they saw in the teams' last meeting because the Patriots have multiple formations and do a great job of disguising any “tells” that may develop from previous games.
“They’re really good at scouting themselves,” Smith said.
Antonio Cromartie said the Jets will try to be more physical with Woodhead at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Timing is everything in the Patriots’ short-route attack and hitting Woodhead at the line could disrupt New England’s rhythm.
The Jets communication in the defensive backfield should be sharper than it was in the last meeting with the Patriots. Starting safety Jim Leonhard, the quarterback of the Jets’ secondary, went down with a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve two days before the Monday Night Massacre.
What you saw from the secondary that night wasn’t pretty, as Brady threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns.
“We played flat as hell,” Cromartie said.
They've tightened things up since. Outside of Pierre Garcon’s 57-yard touchdown, the secondary did a good job of controlling receivers after the catch, limiting Peyton Manning to 225 yards passing in their 17-16 Wild Card round win last Saturday. Pool and Smith also combined for 13 solo tackles, a large portion of which came close to the line of scrimmage.
Pool would like to see a similar performance on Sunday. And he doesn’t want Woodhead to finish with anywhere near 100 yards receiving. But it’s nothing personal.
“We don’t want anybody to get over 100 yards on us, no matter who it is,” Pool said. "It has nothing to do with him. He just so happens to be a Patriot now."