Law has way of shifting QBs' vision

Panthers may test Patriot in corner, but also could give star a wide berth

January 30, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- The left side of the New England Patriots' defense has become a danger zone.

That's the area ruled by cornerback Ty Law, who struck fear in Steve McNair one week and shut down Peyton Manning the next. In intimidating the NFL's co-Most Valuable Players this postseason, Law has presented the Carolina Panthers with a dilemma heading into Sunday's Super Bowl: Do they limit their game plan and avoid him or do they risk attacking him?

If the Panthers ignore Law's side the way McNair did, they would take their leading receiver, Steve Smith, out of the game. If they throw at Law, like Manning did, they would give the Pro Bowl defender more chances to change the complexion of the game.

Whatever the decision, the Patriots are confident Law will have an impact.

"In the biggest games, Ty Law comes through and shows he's the best cornerback in the league," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

A muscular 5 feet 11 and 200 pounds, Law has built a reputation as the game's most complete cover man.

The nine-year veteran is tough enough to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, taking them out of their routes, and he is agile enough to run with them downfield like an unwanted shadow.

In the AFC divisional game against Tennessee, McNair threw in Law's direction on the Titans' first play from scrimmage -- incomplete to Derrick Mason -- and then didn't throw a single pass in his area the rest of the night.

A week later in the AFC Championship Game, Law's presence was felt a different way. He picked off half of the passes thrown his way by Manning, coming away with three interceptions.

"I want to go out there and be the best," Law said, "and I don't mind telling anybody."

There were no arguments after his remarkable picks against the Colts.

He made a diving interception. He made a one-handed interception. He made a cunning interception, coming off his man and stepping in front of Manning's throw at the last moment.

In the end, Law actually gained more yards off Manning's passes (26, off three interception returns) than the Pro Bowl receiver Law covered, Marvin Harrison (19, off three receptions).

"That was the best game I've ever seen played by a cornerback, including myself," said former All-Pro cornerback-turned-CBS analyst Deion Sanders. "He always takes his game to another level in the big game."

Law's prime-time heroics can be traced back two years to New England's last Super Bowl.

With the Patriots down 3-0 to St. Louis in the second quarter, Law picked off a Kurt Warner pass and ran the ball back 47 yards for a touchdown. New England never trailed the rest of the way.

"We can all sit there and watch a game and every once in a while before the ball is even snapped, we all know this is going to be a key play in this game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "A lot of Ty's plays have come at that time."

There will be a fine line Sunday on when to gamble to make plays. Law's likely assignment will be the laser-quick Smith, who is enjoying a breakthrough playoff run, too.

Smith has racked up a postseason-best 324 receiving yards, including a 69-yard touchdown catch that decided a 29-23, double-overtime win over St. Louis.

"He's like a Dante Hall when he catches the ball," said Law, alluding to the fleet-footed Kansas City Chiefs returner. "They're big-play guys with the ability to take it the distance on any given play. It's a matter of him catching the ball. We just have to go out there and do something about it."

Law may not have won MVP honors, but he is the most expensive player in the Super Bowl.

His $8.8 million salary-cap figure for the 2003 season (calculated by a player's annual base salary, bonuses and money earned through incentive clauses with a pro-rated portion of his signing bonus) is the highest for any player for either team by about $3 million.

Law will enter next season with a salary-cap number of $9.4 million, which has prompted speculation that he could wind up as a salary-cap casualty like his close friend, safety Lawyer Milloy.

"I've let it be known I want to stay a Patriot. This is the only team that I know," Law said. "But I also know I can play football regardless of what uniform I'm in. You can take Ty Law's uniform, but you can't take me out of the game.

"If this does turn out to be my last game with the Patriots, then I want to go out with a bang."

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