FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots right cornerback Randall Gay realizes he has been the opposition's No. 1 target, and will remain so in Sunday night's game against Buffalo.
"Personally, being that I am a rookie with not a lot of experience," Gay said yesterday, "I would pick on me, too. I have to expect that every play is coming at me. I have to be ready because the ball could be coming at me every play. But that's what you play the game for."
The Patriots confronted what could have been a crisis when Ty Law broke his foot in the first quarter of a 34-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Oct. 31. Law has played in 141 games over 10 seasons and is tied with Raymond Clayborn for the franchise's interception lead with 36. Patriot foes have spent much of their time planning how to avoid Law's position, but that changed on the third series of the game in Pittsburgh. Two plays after Gay replaced Law, the Steelers scored on a 47-yard pass to Plaxico Burress, the longest touchdown completion against the Patriots in more than two years.
The play could have been traumatizing. But Gay recovered, then performed well as a starter in a 40-22 win at St. Louis last Sunday, his first professional start at cornerback.
"It was just a play," Gay said. "Everybody gets beat. You have to take it and learn from it. I was upset, but you just have to look at the next play and say it won't happen again. I'm here for a reason and if the coaches didn't have confidence in me, I wouldn't be here."
Gay was eased into action, mostly on special teams, in the first three games of the season, then entered in the first quarter of a win over Miami Oct. 10, intercepting a pass. Gay started at free safety in a 13-7 win over the New York Jets Oct. 24, recovering a fumble in the first quarter. The next week, Gay replaced Law.
Gay, 5 feet 11 inches, 186 pounds, is about 14 pounds lighter than Law.
"I might be small but the receivers are small, too," Gay said. "But you don't have to overpower them. You just have to get your hands on them and do things to mess up their timing."
The cornerback position was projected to be among the Patriots' strengths this season. But another starting cornerback, Tyrone Poole, has been out with a knee injury, and was replaced by Asante Samuel. Earthwind Moreland and free safety Eugene Wilson are now the backups.
Last season, the Patriots used five defensive backs -- Rodney Harrison, Law, Poole, Samuel, and Wilson -- for most of the season.
"Ty [Law] missed a game at Miami, but, for the most part, those guys played all the defensive snaps in the secondary," said coach Bill Belichick. "Every week we were saying the same thing -- we knew we were thin. We had other defensive players on the roster. Antwan [Harris], Shawn Mayer, and guys like that, that did play. I am just saying, in terms of the number of plays, they played relatively few compared to those five."
This season, the Patriots have activated Moreland from the practice squad, and used wide receiver Troy Brown in the secondary at St. Louis.
"There have been lots of changes since training camp," Gay said. "Basically, I was the fourth corner then. As a player, it's great to be out there. I don't want to be out there because somebody got hurt, but it's a great feeling to be playing.
"[The St. Louis game] was the first whole game I have played in a long time. I found out I am in good shape."