Burress: 'It applies to everybody but them'
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress suggests there are two sets of pass coverage rules in the NFL these days -- one for the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, another for the rest of the league.
Despite the increased emphasis on not allowing defensive backs to manhandle receivers downfield, Burress doesn't detect any difference in how the physical Patriots are playing, especially Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law.
"They're arm-barring guys out of bounds, Ty Law's pushing guys 10-15 yards downfield, stopping in front of guys and bumping them when they're 20 yards downfield," Burress said. "So I think it applies to everybody but them."
Hines Ward, a three-time Pro Bowl receiver who likely will be matched Sunday against Law, plans to drop a few hints with the officiating crew to watch out for the Patriots' mayhem. Law's aggressive coverage against Colts star receiver Marvin Harrison was a key to New England beating Indianapolis in the AFC championship game last season.
"I'll be sure to talk to the refs early in the game, just to remind them of that game," Ward said.
Burress joked he might offer inducements to the officials.
"I'm going to send them cookies or something before the game starts," Burress said. "Hopefully, we'll get some calls on those guys."
Despite the Steelers receivers' woe-is-us talk, Ward is certain that he, Burress and No. 3 receiver Antwaan Randle El will have plenty of opportunities to make plays against an injury-depleted secondary.
Law is healthy, but cornerback Tyrone Poole sat out Sunday's victory over the New York Jets with a knee injury, forcing second-year cornerback Asante Samuel to start. The Patriots also started undrafted free agent rookie Randall Gay at free safety. Poole is questionable for Sunday.
Ward is coming off three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons and is sixth in the league with 43 receptions. Burress isn't among the top 30 in receptions, but his average of 19.8 yards per catch on 19 receptions is among the league's best.
"I don't know how they're going to going to play both Plax and I," Ward said. "I know Ty followed me the last couple of times, but Plax is a dominant force on the other side and I don't know how they're going to try to defend him over there, too."
Law's answer? The same way the Patriots defended every other top receiver they've faced while winning 21 in a row overall and a league-record 18 straight during the regular season.
Law grew up in the football hotbed of Aliquippa, Pa., about a half-hour's drive from Pittsburgh, and helped the Quips win a Pennsylvania state championship as a senior. He always gets revved up to play at home, and enjoys the challenge of taking on a receiver such as Ward -- or will it be Burress?
"I'd be a fool to tell you that," said Law, who bought 40 game tickets for family and friends. "I'm going to keep that under wraps. I'm probably going to see a little bit of both of them. They have a lot of good receivers over there, so you never know what is going to happen on game day."
One difference since the teams last played two seasons ago -- a 30-14 New England season-opening win -- is that rookie Ben Roethlisberger, not Kordell Stewart, is Pittsburgh's quarterback.
Watching game tapes this week, Law said it wasn't difficult to see what Roethlisberger has brought to Pittsburgh's offense while winning his first four NFL starts. Coach Bill Belichick agreed, saying the Steelers run the same pass plays as they did with Stewart, but "They don't come out the same."
"The guy (Roethlisberger) is a different breed," Law said. "We have to go in there and give him some different looks to see if he can pick up on what we are trying to do. We will try to rattle him as much as we can, try to put pressure on him and we'll see what happens."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press