William Gay proves his worth to Steelers

OAKLAND -- As if a trip across the country a week after the Pittsburgh Steelers slugged it out with the Baltimore Ravens isn’t bad enough, imagine if they had to lug a 1-5 record into the Coliseum.

Instead, the Steelers visit the Oakland Raiders today with a real chance to fight their way back from an 0-4 start.

They are 2-4, though if not for a couple of critical pass break-ups made by William Gay last Sunday, the Steelers would be going nowhere even faster than the perpetually rebuilding Raiders.

Gay saved two touchdowns, including one when he recovered after getting beaten by Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones and batting away an underthrown Joe Flacco pass.

And those weren’t the only plays by the seventh-year veteran that stood out when the Steelers watched tape of their 19-16 win against the Ravens.

“Ray Rice caught a ball out in the flat and Gay made the tackle,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. “That was crucial because that was in the red zone. Gay has always been a solid tackler.”

That is why the Steelers re-signed Gay after he spent last season in Arizona.

Tackling the catch, as the Steelers call it, is critical in coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense. Gay’s proficiency in that part of the game is why he has been playing over promising third-year man Cortez Allen in the Steelers’ base defense.

“He’s playing well, playing consistently and he played well in the Baltimore game,” LeBeau said of Gay.

More and more Steelers fans appear to be giving Gay his due, if grudgingly. At the very least, they are no longer blaming him for everything from Steelers' losses to traffic snarls on Pittsburgh’s major roads.

As much criticism as Gay endured during his first stint in Pittsburgh, the Steelers did not hesitate to bring him back last March when it became clear they would not be able to re-sign Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers signed Gay, whom they had selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, to a three-year contract just days after Arizona released him.

“Coach Mike (Tomlin) says often that your tape is your resume,” LeBeau said. “He had good tape when he was here. He had good tape when he was in Arizona. We knew he was a good man. I’m glad that Mike brought him back.”

Gay has turned out to be one of the better under-the-radar signings by any team.

He leads the Steelers with four passes defended and is fifth on the team with 28 tackles.

Gay stepped up when an ankle sprain sidelined Allen in the season opener and sidetracked the latter's development. He has never missed a game in his NFL career and leads all cornerbacks with 102 consecutive games played.

Yes, Gay has limitations, but he is dependable and durable, and it looks like Steelers fans are finally embracing him for what he is.

And not bashing him for what he isn’t.