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MRI coming for Chris Spencer, Lance Louis has MCL injury

Jay Cutler, Lance Louis AP

After Monday night’s loss to the 49ers, the Bear changed out 40 percent of their starting offensive line.  After Sunday’s win over the Vikings, there’s likely to be another 40-percent turnover.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reports that guard Chris Spencer will have an MRI on Monday to assess a knee injury suffered in the first half.  Via multiple reports, guard Lance Louis (pictured) is believed to have an MCL injury, sustained when on the wrong end of a blindside, post-turnover block from Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

Three other Bears starters were injured on Sunday:  running back Matt Forte (ankle), cornerback Charles Tillman (ankle), and receiver Devin Hester (concussion).

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Harbaugh compares Vernon Davis to an olive jar

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Iconoclastic 49ers tight end Vernon Davis has been called many things.  He can now add olive jar to the list.

That one comes courtesy of coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I just feel like he’s ready to break out,” Harbaugh told reporters on Friday regarding Davis.  “I really do.  You use the old olive jar analogy.  The olives are packed in there real tight and you open up the lid and you can’t get any to come out.  You can even dump it upside down and it doesn’t come out.  But if you get that one to come out, then they just want to all come out and plop out.

“So, I think that’s the case and I think it’s going to happen soon.  Hopefully this weekend.  Get that one big one and then they start coming out.”

(We’re still talking about olives, right?)

Davis generated a mere 44 yards in Week One against the Cowboys.  But that still represents his regular-season high.  Over the last three games, Davis has 34 yards.  In all three games.  Combined.

That’s not the way to earn the contract he held out of offseason workouts to get.  Maybe the lesson going forward is that guys who want new contracts should show up for offseason workouts.

Especially when they also decide to become human corporations with a stock price that hinges on their performance.  From a high of $12.50 in April, shares in Vernon Davis, Inc. have plunged to $7.10.

It’s enough to trigger an aggressive order to sell! sell!

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Chiefs add Jason Avant, put A.J. Jenkins on injured reserve

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Getty Images

The Chiefs have made a change at wide receiver.

Jason Avant, the veteran receiver who was cut by the Panthers this week after complaining about the offensive play calling, has signed with the Chiefs. Avant previously played for Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, so he’ll arrive with an understanding of the offense and should be able to contribute immediately.

The 31-year-old Avant had 21 catches for 201 yards before the Panthers cut him. The last time he played for Reid, in 2012, he averaged four catches a game, and the Chiefs would love to see Avant settle into that kind of role in their stagnant passing game.

Kansas City has also announced that receiver A.J. Jenkins is done for the season with a shoulder injury. Jenkins, the former 49ers first-round pick, had nine catches for 93 yards this year.

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Pete Carroll says everyone in Seattle loves Marshawn Lynch

Pete Carroll, Marshawn Lynch AP

Amid talk that Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s surly demeanor is wearing thin in Seattle, coach Pete Carroll says he loves coaching Lynch.

Carroll said any talk that Lynch won’t be back in Seattle in 2015 must be coming from outside the organization.

“Somebody just started talking about that — he’s under contract next year, we’d love to have him back,” Carroll told USA Today. “There’s no hesitation in us saying that and there never has been. Somebody else said that. That’s never come from here. No one thinks that at all.”

Lynch is on pace for his second career 1,300-yard rushing season, and he’s having his best year ever as a receiver: He’s on pace to gain a career-high 395 receiving yards and already has a career-high three receiving touchdowns.

“Marshawn’s playing the best he’s played since he’s been here,” Carroll said. “His feet are on fire. He’s tough as hell. He’s doing everything. He’s catching the ball. He’s our guy. And he has been all this time.”

Lynch may not always be the easiest person to deal with, but there’s no question that he produces on the field. Carroll wants to win, and that’s why he wants players like Lynch.

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Federal judge strikes down latest New Jersey attempt at sports betting

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The powers-that-be in New Jersey continue to swing and miss when it comes to circumventing federal law that prevents the legalization of gambling there.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Michael Shipp has ruled that the latest effort by New Jersey to legalize sports betting at race tracks and casinos cannot proceed.

“We are going to continue pursuing every legal option available,” New Jersey Senate president Steve Sweeney told the AP.  “The economic impact that sports wagering can have on New Jersey is far too important to simply shrug our shoulders and move on.”

For now, the immediate legal option will be pursuing an appeal of the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which already has blocked efforts by New Jersey and Delaware to avoid the clear terms of a 1992 law that prevents the expansion of sports wagering.

The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA filed suit to block New Jersey’s latest attempt.  Maybe New Jersey should simply legalize gambling on whether its efforts to legalize gambling will ever succeed.

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Gruden says the “clock’s ticking” on Griffin

Gruden AP

Two years ago, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III took the NFL by storm with a combination of running and passing that kept defenses off balance and guessing all year long.  Until he was injured while running.

Since then, an effort has been made to make Griffin more of a passer and less of a runner.  And it hasn’t worked.

Now?  Coach Jay Gruden sounds willing to consider having Griffin run some more as a last-ditch effort to make him more productive.

“It’s a production-based business,” Gruden told Albert Breer of NFL Media.  “We haven’t won many games lately with him.  We gotta figure out a way to get in the end zone.  We just have to score.  I don’t care how we do it.  If it’s running the zone-read, I don’t care.  Quarterback sneaks, I don’t give a damn.  We gotta find a way to utilize him where we can get productive drives and stay away from negative plays and have some consistency.”

Consistency and the absence of negative plays could help Griffin rebuild his shattered confidence.  Which Gruden may have further shattered while discussing Griffin’s shattered confidence on the record.

“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity.  Everybody’s loved him.  Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind, how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.  I read Drew Brees said after a couple interceptions, ‘I’m never gonna lose confidence, I’m gonna come out firing all the time.’”

And then Gruden may have stomped the shattered pieces of confidence into powder.

“He’s auditioned long enough,” Gruden said of Griffin.  “Clock’s ticking.  He’s gotta play.  We’ll see. . . .  We want Robert to excel, we really do.  But the last two games, it hasn’t been very good, anywhere.  We gotta play better around him.  And the biggest thing for us as playcallers, and for him, we just have to come together and jell with plays he’s comfortable with.  That takes time.  But we don’t have a lot of time.”

Griffin’s time could run out because of the backup who won two games before Griffin returned from injury.

“We have a guy behind him that played pretty well, and people are looking, ‘OK, he’s 2-0,’” Gruden said regarding Colt McCoy.  “There’s always pressure on the quarterback to perform.  And if you don’t perform, like any other position, somebody’s behind you pushing you.”

The way Gruden has been talking lately, maybe McCoy will end up pushing Griffin to the bench.  Or maybe right out of town.

Unless Griffin pushes another head coach out of town first.

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Refs missed a Cutler fumble, but replay couldn’t fix it

cutler AP

One of the limitations of instant replay was demonstrated on Sunday in Chicago, where Jay Cutler fumbled, only to have the officials wrongly rule it an incomplete pass — and to have the referee unable to do anything about it on a replay rule.

As explained by NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino in a video distributed by the league, players on the field stopped when they heard an official blow a whistle for what he thought was an incomplete pass by Cutler. Replays clearly showed that Cutler had fumbled, not thrown a pass, but that didn’t matter because if the players stopped playing when they heard an official blow a play dead, there’s nothing instant replay reviews can do about it.

“The problem is, everybody has stopped,” Blandino said. “The rule is, if the ruling on the field is an incomplete pass or down by contact but it’s really a fumble, in order to give the ball to the recovering team, that recovery has to happen in the immediate continuing action. So players can’t stop as a result of the dead ball ruling, as a result of the whistle.”

Blandino acknowledged that video of the play clearly showed Cutler had fumbled, and a Vikings player was the first to pick it up — but only after everyone had stopped playing because of the whistle.

“It is a fumble, you can see that,” Blandino said. “The referee ruled incomplete pass. It should’ve been a fumble.”

Bears fans saw a similar play last year, when an Aaron Rodgers fumble that most of the players on the field thought was an incomplete pass was picked up by the Packers and run in for a touchdown. The difference in that play was that the players stopped because they thought it was an incomplete pass, not because an official blew a whistle. On that play, the officials on the field correctly ruled that Rodgers had fumbled, and they correctly allowed the play to keep going even though most of the players on the field thought it was an incomplete pass.

“What we teach is do not blow the whistle,” Blandino said.

Unfortunately, the ref in Sunday’s game didn’t follow that teaching.

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Week 12 injury report roundup

Larry Fitzgerald, Mohammed Seisay AP

Over the course of the week, there are a lot of posts about the most prominent injured players but we know that you might not see all of them and that some others may fall through the cracks. As a result, we’ll comb through all the injury reports every Friday afternoon so that there’s one stop for all the news from every team playing on Sunday. So, without further delay, the injury report roundup for Week 12 of the 2014 season.

Browns at Falcons

Browns tight end Jordan Cameon (concussion) and wide receiver Marlon Moore (hamstring) are out, with linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee, doubtful) likely to join them on the sideline. Safety Johnson Bademosi (concussion) and linebacker Jabaal Sheard (foot) are both questionable. The Falcons have ruled out cornerback Robert Alford (wrist) and tackle Jonathan Scott (hamstring), but the rest of the 53-man roster is healthy enough to play.

Buccaneers at Bears

It’s a four-man injury report for Tampa and all four — linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), running back Doug Martin (ankle), running back Charles Sims (ankle) and cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) — are questionable. The Bears ruled out defensive end Trevor Scott (knee), linebacker Darryl Sharpton (hamstring) and wide receiver Chris Williams (hamstring) while listing tackle Eben Britton (illness), cornerback Demontre Hurst (knee) and tackle Jordan Mills (ribs) as questionable.

Bengals at Texans

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard (hip,collarbone) is set to return after being listed as probable, but linebacker Vontaze Burfict (knee) is out again this week. Defensive end Margus Hunt (ankle) is also out. The Texans will wait to make a call on running back Arian Foster (groin, questionable) for a second straight week and they’ll continue to be without cornerback Kareem Jackson (knee).

Jaguars at Colts

The Jaguars ruled out defensive end Andre Branch (groin) and linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle), but the rest of the roster is healthy heading into Sunday. The Colts ruled out tight end Dwayne Allen (ankle), tackle Gosder Cherilus (shoulder) and cornerback Greg Toler (concussion). Defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle, probable) is set to return.

Packers at Vikings

It will be a week without tight end Brandon Bostick (hip) for the Packers. Cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin), linebacker Jay Elliott (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) and linebacker Nick Perry (shoulder) are all questionable. The Vikings added running back Ben Tate this week because Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon were banged up. Asiata (concussion) won’t play, but McKinnon (back) is probable. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee), wide receiver Greg Jennings (rib), tackle Matt Kalil (knee) and wide receiver Jarius Wright (hamstring) are questionable.

Lions at Patriots

The Lions will wait to make a final determination on running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and they’ve ruled out defensive tackle Nick Fairley (knee) and guard Larry Warford (knee) for another week. New England listed tackle Marcus Cannon (hip), defensive end Dominique Easley (knee) and safety Nate Ebner (finger) as questionable. Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) is probable, though.

Titans at Eagles

Cornerback Marqueston Huff (hamstring) is unlikely to play for the Titans, who will wait to make final calls on wide receiver Justin Hunter (knee), linebacker Derrick Morgan (knee), safety Daimion Stafford (shoulder) and cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back) after listing them as questionable. Quarterback Nick Foles (collarbone) remains out, but the rest of the Eagles on the injury report, including offensive lineman Matt Tobin (concussion), are probable.

Rams at Chargers

The Rams will try to win against another AFC West team without defensive tackle Alex Carrington (knee), cornerback Lamarcus Joyner (groin), cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and wide receiver Damian Williams (hamstring). They hold out hope for tight end Jared Cook (back), tight end Cory Harkey (quadricep) and long snapper Jake McQuaide (back) after listing them as questionable. Chargers safety Jahleel Addae (concussion) and center Rich Ohrnberger (ankle, back) are both questionable and quarterback Philip Rivers (chest) is probable.

Cardinals at Seahawks

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee, questionable) will be a game-time decision after missing practice all week. Defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) is out. The Seahawks expect to have linebacker Bobby Wagner (toe, probable) back in the lineup, but cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring), linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) and center Max Unger (knee, ankle) have all been ruled out. Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionable.

Dolphins at Broncos

The Dolphins ruled out linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) and have little hope that cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle, doubtful) or tight end Charles Clay (knee, doubtful) will play. Running back Lamar Miller (shoulder, knee) and guard Daryn Colledge (back) are both questionable. The Broncos ruled out running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Montee Ball (groin), but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was listed as probable after practicing on Friday. Tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn’t practice and is listed as questionable.

Redskins at 49ers

Defensive end Chris Baker (chest) and tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) are out for the Redskins, who listed two offensive linemen — guard Shawn Lauvao (concussion) and left tackle Trent Williams (knee, ankle) — as questionable. Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (biceps) won’t make his return this week and right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) is out as well. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), tight end Vance McDonald (hip) and linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) are all questionable for the home team.

Cowboys at Giants

Cornerback Tyler Patmon (knee, ankle) is out, but the Cowboys are otherwise free of injury concerns as they return from the bye week. The Giants ruled out defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf), right tackle Justin Pugh (quadricep) and linebacker Jacquian Williams (concussion) with Geoff Schwartz (toe, probable) expected to take Pugh’s spot in the lineup.

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Roman Harper fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Panthers safety Roman Harper has drawn a $8,268 fine from the NFL for an unnecessary roughness penalty in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta, the league confirmed to PFT on Friday.

Harper was flagged for unnecessary roughness after tackling Falcons wide receiver Roddy White around the helmet in the third quarter. As White was falling, both of Harper’s hands contacted White’s helmet, and Harper punctuated the tackle with a little push to the head with his left hand. This started a brief confrontation between Harper, White (who struck the safety in the facemask) and Falcons tailback Antone Smith (who shoved Harper). Ultimately, Harper drew the 15-yard penalty.

A ninth-year pro, the 31-year-old Harper has started all 11 games for Carolina this season, recording 41 tackles and three interceptions.

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Report: Chiefs to sign Jason Avant

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Chiefs went an 11th game without a touchdown catch by a wide receiver in Oakland on Thursday night and Friday has brought a reported change to the receiving corps.

It’s a familiar face to head coach Andy Reid.

Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Chiefs are signing Jason Avant, who worked out for the team on Friday. The Chiefs haven’t made an announcement, but Avant’s agent Doug Hendrickson congratulated his client on finding a new team.

Avant was released by the Panthers earlier this week after catching 21 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in 11 games for the team. Avant was critical of the team’s offensive approach at the end of last week’s loss to the Falcons, though the Panthers explained the move as one designed to get more playing time for younger receivers.

It was Avant’s first year with the Panthers after spending the first eight years of his career with the Eagles. The first seven of those years came when Reid was in charge of the team and Avant had 259 catches for 3,199 yards and 10 touchdowns as a regular in the team’s offense.

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Tickets to be free for Jets-Bills in Detroit

Ford Field AP

Tickets for Monday night’s Jets-Bills game at Detroit’s Ford Field will be free, general-admission seats, the Lions announced Friday.

Bills season-ticket holders are being offered free tickets beginning today, as are Lions season-ticket owners. All other ticket giveaways will begin Saturday, according to the Lions.

Monday night’s game will start at 7 p.m. Eastern. The NFL moved the game to Detroit on Thursday because of heavy snow in the Buffalo metropolitan area.

The Lions also announced they would hold an in-game raffle to benefit the American Red Cross of Western and Central New York Disaster Relief Fund.

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Patrick Willis undergoes toe surgery, declares it successful

St. Louis Rams v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

Patrick Willis had surgery today.

And judging by the smile on his face, it was a successful one.

The 49ers linebacker had surgery on the toe problem that landed him on season-ending injured reserve.

“Surgery went well thank u all for the support and heartfelt wishes. Determined to get back on that field and be better than ever. Road back starts now! #alwaysbelieve,” he wrote on Instagram.

This has been an upside down year for the 49ers in many respects, and losing Willis will be tough.

Rookie replacement Chris Borland has played solidly, but things aren’t the same without their leader in the middle, as the 49ers scrap for a playoff berth.

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Rodney McLeod not fined for hit that concussed Emmanuel Sanders

Denver Broncos v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

During the Rams’ 22-7 victory over the Broncos last Sunday, safety Rodney McLeod knocked Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders out of the game with a concussion when he hit Sanders while Sanders was trying to catch a ball from Peyton Manning.

McLeod was flagged for the hit during the game, although the chance for repeated viewings it didn’t look like McLeod violated the league’s rules on contacting a defenseless receiver. The league often fines players it feels were guilty of such penalties, but PFT has confirmed with the league that McLeod has not been fined.

It doesn’t sound like that will be greeted as bad news by Sanders. The receiver said after Friday’s practice that he thought it was a clean hit while also wishing McLeod made more of a play on the ball.

“I think it was a legal hit. Obviously, [McLeod] didn’t hit me in the head or lead with the head. He hit me with the shoulder. But in terms of the intentions of targeting, I feel like the guy could have had an opportunity to go for the ball, but I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow. That’s the only thing that I’m not too happy about,” Sanders said, via ESPN.com. “I feel like the National Football League, although it is a violent game, you’re also supposed to protect your brother. And most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously, his intent was to try and make a statement, and I guess he did.”

Sanders has been listed as probable to play Sunday after practicing on Friday for the first time this week.

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Union questions Harold Henderson’s neutrality

Peterson Getty Images

On Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed former NFL executive Harold Henderson to resolve the appeal filed by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson under the personal conduct policy.

The NFL Players Association does not believe that the action satisfies its request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.

“A long-time NFL Executive and current legal consultant cannot, by definition, be a neutral arbitrator,” the union said in a statement released to PFT.

The NFL appointed Henderson without addressing the union’s request for a neutral third-party arbitrator.  The league previously appointed former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension.

Judge Jones ultimately required Goodell to testify at the Rice appeal hearing, over the strenuous objection of the NFL.  That ruling may or may not have influenced the NFL’s willingness to appoint a true outsider to handle Peterson’s case.

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Lions trying to pull one of the bigger surprises of Belichick’s tenure

Denver Broncos v New England Patriots Getty Images

The Patriots are seven-point home favorites Sunday vs. Detroit. That may not sound like a lot of points — just a touchdown and an extra point. And the Lions, at 7-3 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North, are tougher-than-usual underdogs.

But with the Patriots, those seven points can seem like 70.

According to Spreadapedia.com, and as noted for “The Linemakers” of Sporting News, the Patriots have recorded 50 wins and just four losses as home regular-season favorites of seven points or more in Bill Belichick’s 15 seasons as head coach — a 92.6 percent success rate.

By contrast, since Belichick became New England’s coach in 2000, all other NFL clubs have won about four in every five games as seven-point regular-season home favorites (681-175-2, 79.5 percent). It should be noted two sizable favorites lost just last Sunday — Washington (-7) and New Orleans (-8.5).

The Patriots, meanwhile, are 2-0 as favorites of seven or more this season. Since 2000, the lone regular-season underdogs of seven-plus points to knock off New England were the 2006 Jets (+10.5), the 2008 Dolphins (+12.5), the 2011 Giants (+9.5) and 2012 Cardinals (+13.5).

In the playoffs, the Patriots are 9-2 straight-up as home favorites of at least seven points, with the only defeats to the 2010 Jets (+9.5) and 2012 Ravens (+8).

Interestingly enough, the Patriots aren’t great bets as big home favorites, covering in just 24-of-54 regular-season games and just 5-of-11 playoff contests when laying seven points or more since 2000.

Still, there’s a difference between wedging the door open with your foot and having said door slammed on said foot.

In short, in a league where big favorites generally take care of business, the Patriots almost always get the job done.

Which is why they’re the Patriots.

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Ricardo Lockette fined $10,000 after last week’s ejection

Ricardo Lockette AP

Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette joined running back Marshawn Lynch in returning a lost wallet earlier this week and now he’s joined Lynch as the recipient of a fine from the NFL.

PFT has confirmed with the league that Lockette has been fined $10,000 for the actions that led him to be ejected from last Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs. At the tail end of a long De’Anthony Thomas punt return, Lockette responded to a shove from Chiefs defensive back Kurt Coleman by throwing a punch that connected with Coleman’s helmet. Lockette was penalized and ejected from the game as a result.

While Lockette has no one to blame but himself for throwing the punch or getting tossed from the game, he can grumble a bit about the circumstances that led to the punch.

Upon replay, officials ruled that Thomas stepped out of bounds well before he was tackled on the Seattle 40-yard-line and there likely wouldn’t have been an altercation had they made the correct ruling on the field in the first place.

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