On Sunday, you'll see No. 24 in New York Jets green, and you'll wonder what the Patriots' secondary would be like had those offseason conversations between Bill Belichick and Ty Law turned into something more substantive. As it turned out, Law is grateful that Jets coach Herm Edwards gave him a chance despite coming off a serious foot injury that kept him out of training camp and kept other potential employers at arm's length.
As he was driving from Connecticut to Long Island yesterday, Law spoke about the frustration of a 2-9 season with the Jets, a few days before his return to Gillette Stadium.
''I hate losing, so this has been frustrating for me," he said. ''It's one of the toughest seasons I've ever had. We had very high expectations when we started here, but we caught some really bad breaks.
''Imagine if you're the Patriots and you lose Tom Brady, what that would do to your team. When you lose your top three QBs, it's hard to rebound. But that doesn't mean we've given up. We want to come in there and win a game."
Law said he hadn't thought much about returning. After all, he spends a lot of his free time in the Boston area anyway, visiting his son and hanging out with Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison. He often watches ''Monday Night Football" with those former teammates.
''I know people are making a big deal out of me coming back to Gillette, and maybe it will be when I step on the field, but right now my sole thought is how we can finish off this season on a bright note," he said. ''We can't make the playoffs, and so far I've never gone through a year like we've had here.
''But thank goodness we've had Coach Edwards here to just make this all bearable. Thank goodness he comes in every day with something positive to say that keeps us focused on something to work for and a goal to achieve. If we had gone through something like this with Bill Parcells, it wouldn't have been so fun."
When Law signed a seven-year, incentive-laden deal with the Jets, it came with some uncertainty regarding his rehabilitated foot. He didn't have the benefit of his normal offseason workout routine with Bob Kersee. He basically needed every minute leading up to the regular season to be close to 100 percent.
''I think it's been important that I've been out there playing every game. I haven't got beat for a touchdown all year. I have five interceptions, which is higher than what I normally have, and that shows me that I'm still one of the best corners in the game.
''When I have a chance to go through an offseason and go through my program healthy, I know I'm going to be the best corner in the game again."
But his detractors point to his 10 penalties, seven of which have led to opponent scores. Some have said that because he is not 100 percent, he has been apt to grab and hold more down the field. Over the years, Law has had a high threshold for pain, and that still seems to be the case.
''You can dwell on the penalties and the Ty Law Rule [i.e. hands off receivers after 5 yards] and all that, but penalties are nothing new for me," said Law. ''I had penalties with New England. I play aggressive. That's my style and that'll always be my style.
''The fact I have five interceptions tells me what I'm capable of, considering that teams still don't throw a lot of balls to my side of the field. There are games I have three or four balls thrown to my side, so I feel I'm being productive for a guy who just had to step into a new system without any proper training camp and just do the job."
And there's the subject of his contract, which has numerous outs for both sides. There's an $11 million option payable next March, and the chances of the Jets paying that are slim (they already project to being $30 million over the salary cap). That's not to say Law's agent, Carl Poston, and the Jets won't tear it up and start over if need be.
''I'm a realist," Law said. ''I could be facing free agency again, but I'll be a lot more confident going into it than I was last year given the fact I'll be healthy and that I can still play the game at a high level.
''I appreciate the Jets giving me a chance, and I could be a Jet again. Who knows? All I know is that I'm prepared for that, should that happen, but right now we've got a bunch of games to play and we want to win. After everything we've been through here, we want to win and end this on a positive note and end it with a sense of pride."
Law is vague about his offseason chats with Belichick, but he did say Belichick called to ask how he was doing with his rehabilitation. He said his relationship with his former coach is fine, even after a nasty contract dispute two years ago that led to some public mudslinging.
''After the initial dispute, people made more of it than there actually was," Law said. ''He and I got over that one and we moved on. People are going to keep lingering over that, but that's over with. We found a way to win together and we did that very well last year before I was injured."
Law doesn't like talking about his foot. He wasn't on the field Sunday night when the Saints completed the game-winning touchdown pass, but he wouldn't go into why.
''Some days are better than others," he said. ''Some days I'm 100 percent and others I'm 85 percent. I'm healthy enough to be out there playing every game and play productive football. I'll give up plays here and there, and guys are going to pick and choose when to throw my way. But I haven't been beat for a touchdown.
''I am who I am. I'm not going to come out of character. I want to be on the field as much as possible. That's my way of showing my leadership. I have the same work ethic I've always had. I study a lot of film because I feel that's part of what makes me successful."
Told that some fans long for his presence in the Patriots' secondary, Law said, ''That makes me feel good. That's a compliment. I was a big part of that secondary for a long time. At some point, that's going to run out, too. It took a long time for people to stop talking about Drew Bledsoe, and when Tom stepped up and proved himself, you didn't hear Drew's name up there anymore. I think it took Corey Dillon coming there for people to stop talking about Curtis Martin, and sometime someone's going to come along and people will stop talking about me."
He never believed he'd be a Patriot forever, especially after seeing what happened to Lawyer Milloy and Bledsoe.
''That's always wishful thinking," he said. ''You just go through a period when things run their course and you realize you're not going to play there forever. That time came in New England and we mutually agreed to go our separate ways. There was no animosity on my part or theirs when that time came, which is why Bill and I did talk over the offseason."
Poston said the talks between Belichick and Law pretty much stayed between the two of them.
''All I know is that Scott Pioli never called me to talk contract," Poston said. ''I think Bill made it known if nothing developed to get back to him. But we had enough interest in Ty from other teams."
Asked if he would consider returning to New England, Law said, ''I would never say never. Whether it's to come back and play ball or come back for one day and retire. I'm not looking to retire, though. I feel I can play a Pro Bowl-caliber corner for two or three more years and then I'd like to try to move to safety."