GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -When Charles Woodson finally became a free agent, he made a startling discovery.
Not many teams needed an oft-injured and perpetually frustrated cornerback looking for a big payday, no matter if he'd won a Heisman Trophy, a national title and gone to four consecutive Pro Bowls early in his career.
``When I became a free agent, there was really one team knocking on the door, and that was Green Bay,'' Woodson said Tuesday.
It was an odd match.
Woodson, who never thought of going to the smallest outpost in the NFL, would deal with general manager Ted Thompson, who has a reputation for building through the draft and shunning big ticket free agents at all cost.
The result? Woodson got a seven-year, $52.7 million contract before last season even though he'd failed to appear in all 16 games since the last of his Pro Bowl selections in 2001.
``The thing is people really focus on the injuries, but if you go back and look at film, I played real good football out there in Oakland,'' Woodson said. ``I think people stopped paying attention to the way I played the game.''
It's certainly hard to ignore Woodson now. He's started all 22 games with Green Bay, made a career-high eight interceptions last season and is on pace this year to surpass his career-best mark of 79 tackles.
Woodson is also returning punts and ran back a fumble 57 yards on Sunday for the go-ahead touchdown to help the Packers beat Washington 17-14 and improve to an NFC-best 5-1.
Better yet, Woodson fits right in.
``It's funny how very good players, great players, show up when you need them,'' Brett Favre said. ``He's a heady guy. He knows what's going on.''
Woodson, who also pounced on a punt that was touched by one of his blockers against the Redskins, has earned Favre's trust on special teams.
``He's back there fielding punts, you feel so comfortable with him that he'll make the right decision and not put you in a bad hole,'' Favre said.
Woodson's contributions have helped the Packers tie Dallas atop the NFC standings heading into their bye week.
Green Bay is taking five days off to recover from nagging injuries that have kept Woodson and fellow bump-and-run cornerback Al Harris as fixtures on the weekly injury reports. Woodson turned 31 this month, and Harris will be 33 in December.
``Me and Al, we're prehistoric,'' Woodson deadpanned.
The jokes are another sign Woodson is having fun again. He's already won 13 of his 22 games with Green Bay, matching the number of victories he had in his final three seasons with the Raiders.
But he remains sensitive about what happened on the West Coast, referencing a 34-27 loss to Kansas City on Dec. 5, 2004. Woodson made a career-high 13 tackles and an interception that game, providing proof he was still playing at a high level.
``Nobody pays attention,'' Woodson said. ``I never heard anything about that. I'd look on TV and see the guys who were defensive players of the week and all these different things and they might have had three tackles and whatever.''
That's part of why Woodson is adamant he's the same football player he's always been.
``You win some games and then all of sudden, 'Oh, he's playing like the Charles Woodson of old,''' Woodson said. ``I've been playing good football; you just take the time to notice that.''
Opponents seem to have taken notice, too. Neither Woodson nor Harris has had as many passes thrown in his direction as safety Nick Collins or nickel cornerback Jarrett Bush.
``When I can look over and say, 'OK, he's going to be there,' then it makes it so much easier,'' Harris said. ``Me and Wood, we're in our thirties. It doesn't matter - young guy, old guy, whoever. We've been together in the same scheme. That's all that matters.''
And Woodson no longer gets the question ``Why Green Bay?'' that he heard constantly from friends last summer.
``They just see the team and see how well we're doing,'' he said. ``People just say it looks like it was the right fit.''

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