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September 5, 2010

10 steps for the Pats to reach the Super Bowl

FOXBORO — So how do the New England Patriots go from the August embarrassment at the hands of the St. Louis Rams' second-stringers to Super Bowl XLV in February?

Tom Brady & Co. will bid to make that trek, which begins at Gillette Stadium seven days from today against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Can it happen? After eight seasons with Brady under center together with Bill Belichick calling the shots — and oh-so many spectacular memories — why is there a shred of doubt?

There are too many questions not to have some doubt.

But another Super Bowl ride surely can happen. Here are 10 pieces that have to fall into place to make it a reality.

1. Best of Brady

Brady has been razor sharp in the preseason. He is driven, playing in what is shaping up as a contract season. Chances are, he'll never statistically match 2007 when the Pats were a perfect 16-0. He has to at least threaten those numbers.

2. Logan's heroes

Refusing to pay a Pro Bowl offensive lineman sends an ugly message to the other 52 athletes in the locker room. End the standoff. Get Logan Mankins back in the fold, solidify the offensive line and prove to the players that putting the best 11 on the field is the only thing that matters at Patriots Place.

3. Shoot 75 on defense

Forget about points allowed and yards allowed. Think about sacks and turnovers. Sacks and turnovers. In 2007, they caused 31 turnovers with 47 sacks (78); in 2004 it was 36 and 45 (81); in 2003, 41 and 41 (82) and in 2001, 31 and 45 (76). Where did all those years end? At the Super Bowl, of course. Turnovers and sacks equal big-game victories.

4. Cover story

Belichick has burned three top draft picks in the likes of Devin McCourty (27th), Darius Butler (41st) and Patrick Chung (34th) in the last two seasons. One of these three has to step up and show he can play pass defense at a championship level. One has to be the next Ty Law or Rodney Harrison, a point that emphasized even more with the loss of Leigh Bodden for the year.

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