By Joe Burris, Globe Staff | November 1, 2004

PITTSBURGH -- Patriots cornerback Ty Law yesterday suffered a left foot injury at the 4:52 mark of the first quarter. Initially, he tried to continue playing, but then signaled for help. And as he limped off the field the Patriots' chances of slowing the Pittsburgh offense may have gone with him.

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He was spelled by rookie Randall Gay and it didn't take much to figure what was coming next. Pittsburgh became opportunistic. Gay became a moving target.

Two plays later, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 47-yard pass to wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was covered by Gay. Burress leaped over the defensive back and caught the ball in the end zone for the game's first touchdown, giving the Steelers a 7-3 advantage with 3:46 left in the first.

That marked the beginning of a poor defensive performance by a unit that ended up yielding 27 points. In its previous three games, New England allowed 37 points combined.

Law's departure was far from the unit's only problem. Steelers running back Duce Staley rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries for his fourth 100-yard performance in the Steelers' last five games. And goal-line specialist Jerome Bettis, who had a total of 64 yards on 37 carries entering the game, rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries.

Burress's touchdown was the Steelers' longest pass reception of the day, yet he was among three Pittsburgh receivers to post catches of at least 20 yards. That helped the Steelers more than double the Patriots' time of possession in the first half (20:38 to 9:22).

"We came out and we didn't play well at all," said Patriots safety and leading tackler Rodney Harrison, who posted a game-high 18 stops (10 solo). "We made a lot of mental errors. It wasn't good and they [took] full advantage of our mistakes."

Burress said the Steelers' intent was to attack Gay immediately.

"It's like they say, when there's blood in the water, you have to go after them," he said. "We knew that Ty went down and that they were a man short. We just went after them as far as throwing the football."

Burress followed his first touchdown with another score while being covered by Eugene Wilson with 29 seconds left in the first quarter to put Pittsburgh ahead, 14-3. Deshea Townsend then scored on an interception return for a touchdown to put the Patriots down by 18.

The 21 first-quarter points was unusual for a team that had yielded 21 points in a contest just five times during its 21-game winning streak.

"Guys were just saying, `Let's continue to fight, the game's not over until it's over,' " said Harrison. "We had opportunities and we just didn't capitalize one them."

Pittsburgh finished with 417 yards of total offense against a team that entered yielding an average of 326 yards. The Patriots allowed 25 first downs and allowed 56 percent (9 of 16) third-down efficiency.

"[Law] is a big part of this defense, he's a large part of this defense, but as a player I don't look that deep into it, to say that because one of our defensive leaders went down, we threw the towel in," said linebacker Mike Vrabel. "I don't think that was the case; I think we just didn't make plays, regardless of who was out there."

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