FOXBOROUGH - Last night, not 72 hours after his reintroduction to the NFL, Ty Law stood facemask to facemask with Randy Moss, perhaps the greatest wide receiver on the planet. Law had practiced for two days. His legs felt heavy, he said. Eight seconds remained. The ball rested on the 16-yard line. His team led by a touchdown.
On Monday, Law woke up in Boston, the same as he had every previous day during this season, as an out-of-work cornerback. He drove 3 1/2 hours that night from his home to Florham Park, N.J., signed papers, met with coaches, and restarted his football career as a New York Jet.
Now he faced as difficult a task as football offers, in the most crucial of situations: keeping Moss out of the end zone, nothing less than first place at stake. And this, he said, was the assignment he asked for.
"Why not try to go out there and cover the best?" Law said. "I want to see where I'm at. I didn't want to go against somebody I probably could beat if I took two years off."
On this play, though, Moss beat him. Law yielded the most improbable play of the Jets' 34-31 overtime victory last night, the touchdown in the corner of the end zone that Moss grabbed with Law on him, in good position but not good enough. Law agonized over the play, which sent the game into overtime.
But Law had otherwise limited Moss in his return, guarding him for most of a game in which Moss caught two passes for 10 yards before the Patriots' final play. Law played more than he imagined and played better than a Hollywood script would dare predict: from the street to first place in three days.
"It feels good," Law said. "I played a little more than I anticipated. I'm a little rusty. But it feels good to come in here. I made it a little hard for us. That one's kind of sticking in my mind a little bit."
Law played Moss tight at the line of scrimmage on the final play, as he had done throughout the Patriots' last-minute drive. On other plays, safety Kerry Rhodes had shadowed him over the top. This time, Rhodes drifted in the center of the field, leaving Law on Moss alone as Matt Cassel sprinted right, toward them.
Moss and Law shoved one another in the corner before Cassel slung a 16-yard pass toward them. The ball sailed over the pylon, where only Moss's long arms could snare it. Moss barely kept two feet inbounds, but he caught the ball as Law reached helplessly for it.
"Next time, hopefully, I can get my legs to where I can jump a little further and make that play," Law said. "Guys keep telling me, 'There's nothing more you could do.' But I expect a lot more out of myself. You know what? I still should have made the play, no matter whether I [had been] playing or not."
When Law retreated to the sideline, a coach told him he could have shoved Moss out of bounds before the pass because Cassel had left the pocket. That maneuver would have been pass interference last season; the rule was changed in the offseason, and Law didn't realize it.
Law spoke about the difference between being in shape and being in football shape. The former he had achieved with ease, running up to 12 miles each day and simulating games outside his home on Sundays. The latter, he knew, was impossible without slapping on pads, moving, and hitting like a football player.
The transition from one to the other was made more difficult by a schedule Law kept earlier in the week, unaware the coming days would include covering one of the greatest players in football history. Law ran 6 miles Monday morning and 6 miles Monday evening.
"It's been a long couple of days for me," he said.
But it ended well: with a Jets victory, more action than he figured he would see, and, aside from one, final play, more success than he could have hoped for.
"It is a little bit of a confidence booster," Law said. "Even if I did not play football for a long time, I did pretty good.
"I'm glad good ol' Brett [Favre] saved me."
Adam Kilgore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.