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They're hoping a pair is in the cards Sunday

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots began serious preparations for New Orleans yesterday thinking about winning one game, a game that would mean the team's first winning streak of the season.

''Win one, lose one, that's been our pattern," Tedy Bruschi said.

New England (5-4) won the season opener against Oakland, and has managed to win every other game since. ''We haven't played well enough to win two games in a row," linebacker Mike Vrabel said.

''We can't just say, 'Hey we've got momentum [and expect to win].' We've had momentum four other times and lost. There's no carryover.

''It's been time [to win two in a row]. We're making a push for that. You can't just continue to talk about it. You've got to go out there, have a good week, and most importantly play well on Sunday."

Starting and stopping

Four offensive starters on the injury list -- tackle Tom Ashworth (knee), running back Corey Dillon (calf), and receivers Troy Brown (foot) and David Givens (knee) -- were not at the portion of practice viewed by the media yesterday. Linebacker Monty Beisel was an addition to the injury list with a back problem.

Running back Patrick Pass returned to practice for the first time since injuring his left hamstring against Indianapolis Nov. 7. After a week of moving gingerly, he appeared to run well in the group drills.

Offensive tackle Matt Light (left leg) and running back Kevin Faulk (foot) were upgraded to doubtful after having been listed as ''out" for the past six games. Light and Faulk were both hurt against Pittsburgh Sept. 25.

Several players, including defensive ends Richard Seymour (knee) and Ty Warren (hip), were removed from the injury report, as the Patriots had just 10 players listed as ''questionable" for Sunday's game at Gillette. Last week there 15 were ''questionable" players.

Saints receiver Donte' Stallworth (shoulder), free safety Dwight Smith (leg), and tight end Ernie Conwell (knee), all starters, each missed a portion of practice yesterday.

Covering possibilities

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said new cornerback Artrell Hawkins brings experience in all facets of the position, though Hawkins had a reputation of being more of a physical player than a shutdown cover corner.

Belichick also noted that Hawkins could figure into the kicking game, and he was lined up with the first-team kickoff unit at the beginning of practice. Beisel has been on that unit.

''[Hawkins has] played both inside and outside as a corner," Belichick said. ''He's a pretty good athletic guy that has some experience, not in our system, but we're trying to break him in as quick as we can and see what he's ready to do, if anything, when we get to the end of the week."

Friends and rivals

Vrabel, an Ohio State product, tossed a Buckeyes cap at Tom Brady during the quarterback's interview session with the media yesterday, instigating the trash talking that goes with the annual Ohio State-Michigan duel, which will be played Saturday. Brady's locker is next to practice squad member Bam Childress, another former Ohio State player, who plans to get in digs this week as well. When done with the interview, Brady stomped on the hat . . . New Orleans running back Antowain Smith said he looked forward to playing against old friends this week. ''It is always exciting to come back up there to Foxborough and Gillette Stadium. It is a place where I have won two Super Bowls," Smith said. ''It is going to be fun. I know the defense is going to trying to rip my head off. . . . Afterward, we will shake hands and ask the boys how they are doing and go from there."

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