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NFL morning after: Oh, those crazy Jets

Arizona Cardinals v New York Jets Getty Images

The New York Jets aren’t good. But they are fun.

No, no, they’re not fun if you’re a fan of the Jets — I wouldn’t wish the experience of being a fan of this team on anyone. They’re fun for fans of the NFL’s other 31 teams because no matter what ridiculous thing happens with your team, you can say, At least we’re not the Jets.

Think about it: There are two 11-1 teams in the NFL right now, the Texans and the Falcons, and neither one of them has garnered as much media attention as the 5-7 Jets. Most of that media attention has been about what a clown show the Jets’ quarterback situation is, with Mark Sanchez struggling through another mediocre year and the much-hyped arrival of Tim Tebow turning into a big nothingburger. And then on Sunday, after Sanchez had completed just 10 of his 21 passes for 97 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions, Jets coach Rex Ryan finally decided he had seen enough of Sanchez’s poor play. Except that Tebow was out of the game with broken ribs. So Ryan had no choice but to put in third-string quarterback Greg McElroy.

And then McElroy proceeded to march the Jets down the field and for the only touchdown of the game, leading the Jets to a 7-6 win over the Cardinals. And just like that, a third name was added to the Jets’ quarterback circus.

On the 53-man rosters of the two teams playing on Sunday, there were six quarterbacks: Sanchez, Tebow and McElroy for the Jets, and Ryan Lindley, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton for the Cardinals. McElroy is the only one of the six who had never started an NFL game before, but he’s probably the best quarterback on either team.

Yes, I do think McElroy is the best quarterback on the Jets. Ryan was noncommittal after the game about whether McElroy would start next week, but the Jets might as well give him a full week of practice with the first-string offense and see what he can do in their next game, Sunday at Jacksonville. Because even if you don’t think McElroy is any good, here’s the truth about Sanchez and Tebow: Both of them stink.

That’s what makes the Jets so funny. This whole quarterback controversy is between two guys who aren’t good quarterbacks, two guys who probably aren’t any better than McElroy, a former seventh-round draft pick out of Alabama who until he took the field in place of Sanchez on Sunday had never played in an NFL game.

And McElroy probably isn’t the answer, either. There was a reason that NFL scouts watched him play at Alabama and didn’t think he was a high pick, and there was a reason that the Jets never bothered to put him on the field until Sunday. But McElroy should get the opportunity to prove himself.

Of course, for the Jets, the worst-case scenario might be McElroy playing just well enough down the stretch, against a soft schedule (all four of the Jets’ remaining opponents have losing records), to make people think he deserves to compete for the starting quarterback position next year. Because the only thing crazier than the mess the quarterback situation was this year would be a three-way quarterback battle with McElroy, Sanchez and Tebow next year. But while Jets fans would probably prefer not to have another quarterback controversy, it would give the rest of us a good laugh.

Here are my other thoughts on Sunday in the NFL:

The Chiefs did an amazing thing. A day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of coaches and team officials, the Chiefs somehow managed to play — and win — a football game. Romeo Crennel — who witnessed Belcher’s suicide — somehow managed to pull his team together for Sunday’s game. Jamaal Charles — whose wife is the cousin of Kasandra Perkins, the girlfriend Belcher killed — somehow managed to gain 127 yards on Sunday. Crennel called playing football “the best thing we could do, if for no other reason it takes our minds off our misery for a few hours.”

Peyton Manning had the best four-yard completion in NFL history. In the funniest play of the day, Manning was rolling to his right on third-and-1 and not finding anyone open. But just as he was about to get pushed out of bounds by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, Manning saw that running back Knowshon Moreno had been knocked to the ground and was just lying there. So Manning threw the ball right into Moreno’s breadbasket, and although Moreno didn’t even see the ball coming, he did manage to hold onto it for a four-yard gain and a first down. Even the hard-nosed Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano was chuckling on the sideline at the way Manning had just picked up a first down against his team.

Tom Brady gets division title No. 10: Brady is the first player in NFL history to be the quarterback for 10 division-winning teams, after the Patriots clinched the AFC East on Sunday. Brady is ahead of Peyton Manning (who won eight division titles with the Colts and clinched the ninth division title of his career when the Broncos won the AFC West on Sunday) and Joe Montana (who won eight division titles with the 49ers and added a ninth with the Chiefs) as the quarterback with the most division titles.

Megatron keeps going. The Lions are having a disappointing season, but Calvin Johnson is having a phenomenal season. He’s on pace to break Jerry Rice’s all-time single-season record of 1,848 receiving yards, and on Sunday he became the first player in NFL history to gain at least 140 receiving yards in four consecutive weeks. Johnson had an absolutely incredible one-handed catch on a deep ball along the right sideline, a great catch that came so easily for Johnson that he never even bothered to put his left hand on the ball, even when he was securing it as he was tackled. It doesn’t get any better than Megatron at the receiver position.

Adrian Peterson is keeping pace with Emmitt Smith. Peterson ran for 210 yards on Sunday, putting him over 8,000 rushing yards in his career, in the 85th game of his career. Likewise, Smith went over 8,000 yards in his career in the 85th game of his career. I have no idea if Peterson will have the longevity of Smith, but it’s remarkable that Peterson — who is having the best season of his career — is keeping pace with the NFL’s all-time rushing leader.

Aldon Smith moves ahead of Reggie White. Smith, the 49ers’ outstanding second-year pass rusher, had a sack on Sunday to give him 31.5 so far in his two-year career. That’s the most sacks that any player has ever had in the first two years of his career, surpassing White, the Hall of Famer who had 31 sacks in the first two years of his career.

Andrew Luck commands an offense like a 15-year veteran. The poise that Luck showed in throwing two touchdown passes in the final three minutes of Sunday’s 35-33 win in Detroit was stunning. By drafting Peyton Manning in 1998 and Luck this year, the Colts have set themselves up to have a quarter-century or so of superb quarterback play. Think how jealous Jets fans must be.

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Cardinals lose Chris Johnson to fractured tibia

Chris Johnson, NaVorro Bowman AP

The impressive comeback season for Cardinals running back Chris Johnson has hit a bump in the road.

Johnson has suffered a fractured tibia, according to Jay Glazer of FOX Sports. It’s not clear how much time Johnson will miss, but it’s likely a significant period of time.

That’s a big blow to the Cardinals: Johnson is fourth in the NFL with 814 rushing yards this season and has been a big part of the 9-2 Cardinals’ offense.

With Johnson out, David Johnson and Andre Ellington will split carries in Arizona’s backfield. Ellington, however, is dealing with a toe injury, and his prognosis is uncertain. So the depth in the Cardinals’ backfield may have just gone from a strength to a weakness.

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Patriots cut Chris Harper after costly muffed punt

Chris Harper, Cody Latimer AP

A muffed punt that turned the tide of the Patriots’ loss on Sunday night has cost Chris Harper his job.

Tom Curran of reports that Harper was cut today.

The Patriots appeared to be in total control of the game early in the fourth quarter on Sunday night: They had a 21-7 lead and had just forced the Broncos to punt. But Harper muffed the punt, the Broncos recovered, and four plays later they scored a touchdown. Denver went on to win the game in overtime.

An undrafted rookie receiver from Cal, Harper had played only sparingly this season. Patriots coach Bill Belichick isn’t particularly tolerant of fumbling even among good players, and among marginal players, a fumble is an easy way to lose your job in New England. Harper found that out the hard way today.

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Kubiak “real concerned” about the number of hits Osweiler has been taking

Brock Osweiler AP

Now that an injury to Peyton Manning has opened the door for quarterback Brock Osweiler, the Broncos don’t want the door to be slammed shut repeatedly on Osweiler’s leg.

Osweiler has taken plenty of hits in two games, and coach Gary Kubiak is concerned about it. How concerned?

“Real concerned,” Kubiak told reporters on Monday. “I think Brock has been sacked I want to say 11 times in his 10 quarters — maybe 10 times — so that’s way too many. Some of those are his that we’ve got to get corrected. A couple of those are protection issues, but [the Patriots] came after us, especially in the second half they came after us, blitzed us a little bit more and he’ll learn from that. Yes, protecting him and doing a better job—that’s important right now. It really is.”

It is because the physics are simple. The more hits a quarterback takes, the more likely he is to break. Or to sprain. Or to rupture. Or to lacerate.

Beyond the hits Osweiler is taking, Kubiak seems to have no concerns about the guy who has now started two career games.

“I think the No. 1 thing that’s impressed me is I think he understands exactly what he needs to do for the team to be successful,” Kubiak said. “What I mean by that — sometimes guys will get put in situations and they’ll try to do too much. I think he understands he’s on a good football team. If he’ll just do his job, handle the ball well, handle the team well, then our football team will have a chance to be successful. I’m really impressed with how he’s approached that. He’s very comfortable in his preparation, his work and obviously he’s confident in his abilities. I really think just understanding the situation he’s in and handling it might by the No. 1 thing.”

And so he continues to be the No. 1 quarterback indefinitely. Which definitely means he’ll be playing as long as he keeps doing those things.

And as long as nothing breaks, sprains, ruptures, or lacerates.

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Pagano: “Ridiculous” to think Luck won’t start once he’s healthy

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 29: Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts gets his team fired up before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Colts moved to 4-0 in games started by Matt Hasselbeck by beating the Buccaneers 25-12 on Sunday and Hasselbeck turned in another good performance to help lead the team to the victory.

Hasselbeck completed 26-of-42 passes for a season-high 315 yards and two touchdowns in a performance that was as good as the best that the team’s seen from Andrew Luck when Luck has been healthy this season. That performance and the team’s record in Hasselbeck’s starts may have some wondering whether the Colts will continue to roll with him when Luck has been cleared to return from kidney and abdominal injuries.

Coach Chuck Pagano shot down that notion on Monday. Pagano said, via Andrew Siciliano of NFL Media, that it is “ridiculous” to think that the team would leave Luck on the bench once he’s deemed healthy enough to play. There’s no word on when that might be beyond Luck saying he “definitely” expects to be back before the season is over.

Coming into this season, it would have seemed just as ridiculous to even entertain the thought but this year has not played out the way anyone was expecting in Indianapolis. Still, Luck is the player the Colts have built their franchise around and he’ll continue to be the centerpiece as long as he’s fit enough for action.

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Report: Manziel will be active for MNF

Johnny Manziel AP

Johnny Manziel pulled off the rare feat of getting named starter then demoted during the Browns’ bye week. With that demotion came a statement from Browns coach Mike Pettine that said Manziel would be the third quarterback for the Browns’ next game, which is Monday night vs. the Ravens.

Monday afternoon, Mary Kay Cabot of reported that Manziel will be active for the game. That’s interesting because Pettine specifically stated that Josh McCown would start and that Austin Davis would be the No. 2 quarterback, and Manziel being active leaves open the possibility that he could still be in the plans for the Ravens game.

The Browns generally make just two quarterbacks among their active 46 players.

Maybe the Browns went through their list of available players and gameplan and decided they had a spot for a third quarterback. Or, maybe, the punishment for Manziel’s latest social media appearance and being less than truthful about it was simply not starting and he’ll be available if needed or even in a special situation. It’s always something with Manziel, so stay tuned.

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Mike Mularkey says NFL admitted blown call against the Titans

Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey AP

In a season full of blown calls affecting high-profile games, there hasn’t been much public outrage about the blown call at the end of Sunday’s Raiders-Titans game, perhaps because that was a low-profile game.

But there was a blown call: According to Titans coach Mike Mularkey, the NFL has admitted that the defensive holding penalty against Titans cornerback B.W. Webb that kept alive the Raiders’ final drive was a poorly officiated play.

On the play in question, the Raiders were facing fourth-and-8 with 1:57 remaining, and a Derek Carr pass fell incomplete. If not for the penalty, the Titans would have taken over with a 21-17 lead and would’ve just had to kneel down three times to run out the clock and win the game. Instead, the penalty gave the Raiders a first down, and Oakland scored the game-winning touchdown two plays later.

After the game, Webb called it a “terrible call,” and Mularkey said, “I do not agree with it.” Apparently the league office doesn’t agree with it either.

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Report: Dont’a Hightower suffered sprained MCL

Dont'a Hightower, Ryan Fitzpatrick AP

Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s knee injury commanded the lion’s share of the attention coming out of Sunday night’s Patriots loss, but he wasn’t the only key member of the team to leave the contest with an injury.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower also departed early with a knee injury. Like Gronkowski, Hightower appears to have avoided a severe injury but may join the tight end on the sideline in the near future.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that Hightower suffered a sprained MCL. There’s no timetable given for how long he might be out, although such injuries typically keep a player out for at least a little while.

Before Hightower went out on Sunday night, Denver had 43 yards on 15 carries. Ronnie Hillman scored on a 19-yard run a couple of plays after he left the game and the Broncos would go on to put up 136 yards on 17 carries overall with Hightower out of the game. The Patriots were missing Jamie Collins at linebacker as well and it’s probably not a coincidence that the Broncos were able to run so well with those two missing from the lineup.

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Broncos will be without T.J. Ward, Sylvester Williams this week

T.J. Ward AP

They might not be Rob Gronkowski-level players, but the Broncos also left last night with some injuries that will take some key contributors out.

According to Mike Klis of KUSA, the Broncos will be without strong safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Sylvester Williamsfor a while” after they suffered high ankle sprains on the same play last night.

The two of them even shared a cart ride from the sidelines to the locker room, after being helped off following a first-quarter run.

“Got rolled with Sly on the same play, in the same area on the same tackle,” Ward said.

Missing two key pieces will force the Broncos to adjust, but they have put together a deep defense, and have been able to withstand the absence of pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware.

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Peyton Manning won’t be back “anytime soon”

Peyton Manning AP

After Sunday night’s unlikely win over the previously 10-0 Patriots, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak didn’t say that Peyton Manning will return to the lineup only when he’s “100 percent,” or words to that effect. Kubiak probably didn’t need to.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Manning won’t be playing “anytime soon.”

Last week, the Broncos announced that Manning would miss at least two games due to the foot injury that has caused him to miss the last two. He’s still in a walking cast, and he is expected to wear it until at least Friday of this week.

Even after shedding the cast, Manning will still need to further rehab a partially-torn plantar fascia tendon. It’s a painful condition, and there’s no indication that rest and rehab will get Manning to the point where he can perform without limitation.

Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler is performing at a high level, making it easier to perform without Manning and harder to justify not rolling with Osweiler’s hot hand. While Manning remains determined to play again in 2015, he’s smart enough and sufficiently self-aware to understand what’s currently happening. And he apparently has no problem with it — even if at this point he’s trying to get healthy enough to play only in the event that Osweiler eventually isn’t.

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Minor knee strain for Rob Gronkowski

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 23:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts after missing a catch during the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on November 23, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images) Getty Images

The early word was that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski avoided a serious injury when he hurt his knee in Denver on Sunday night and further tests have done nothing to change that outlook.

PFT has learned, via a league source, that the Patriots star suffered a minor knee strain. The time frame for his return is expected to be a week or two.

While playing without Gronkowski for any amount of time is a negative for the Patriots offense, this qualifies as good news given how dire the injury appeared to be when Gronkowski first went down on Sunday night. The reactions of Gronkowski and other members of the Patriots gave the impression that it might be a long time before Gronkowski would be back on the field, so a couple of weeks is far easier to swallow for a team that has their sights set on the Super Bowl.

Scott Chandler could see a larger role while Gronkowski heals up and the Patriots will hope to get wide receiver Danny Amendola back in time to face the Eagles in Week 13 as well.

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Report: Marcus Williams sprained MCL filling in for Revis

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 29:  Marcus Williams #20 of the New York Jets intercepts a pass intended for Kenny Stills #10 of the Miami Dolphins on November 29, 2015 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jets cornerback Marcus Williams got bumped up to the starting lineup for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins with Darrelle Revis out with a concussion, but the Jets may have to look elsewhere if Revis isn’t cleared in time to play in Week 13.

Adam Caplan of ESPN reports that Williams suffered a sprained MCL in the victory over Miami, leaving his status as “week-to-week” for a return to the lineup.

Williams had an interception of Ryan Tannehill early in the victory, which gives him a team-high five for the season. Those interceptions have come in less than 250 defensive snaps, so the Jets will be without a playmaker in their secondary as long as Williams is out of the lineup.

With or without Revis and Williams, the Jets secondary should have its hands full next Sunday. Odell Beckham will be lined up across from them and the Giants have not been shy about feeding their most dynamic offensive player this season. That habit is unlikely to change with the Giants in serious need of a win in the battle for MetLife Stadium bragging rights.

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Tom Coughlin expects Geoff Schwartz to be placed on injured reserve

Odell Beckham Jr. AP

After guard Geoff Schwartz left Sunday’s game with a leg injury, the Giants initially said that he would be able to return to the game before updating his status to say that he would miss the rest of the game after fracturing his leg.

Given the point we’re at in the season, it sounded like a season-ending injury but Schwartz held out hope on Twitter that he would be able to return to the team this season. Coach Tom Coughlin didn’t sound anywhere near as hopeful when he spoke to the media on Monday, however. While the coach didn’t rule anything out, he said he’s preparing to lose Schwartz for the rest of the year.

“No, but it’s not good,” Coughlin said, via Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News. “He has a fracture above the plate on his leg. I’m sure he’ll have to be put on IR.”

Schwartz started at left guard Sunday as the Giants covered for the absence of Justin Pugh by flipping Schwartz to that side and starting John Jerry at right guard. Bobby Hart entered the game after Schwartz’s injury.

The Giants were also starting Dallas Reynolds at center in place of Weston Richburg, which could leave the Giants with a lot of patchwork to do against the Jets this week. Coughlin says he hopes to have at least one of them back this week, but that he doesn’t “have any evidence” that will be the case at this point.

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Chiefs stepping up as a group without Jamaal Charles

Chris Conley, Knile Davis, Spencer Ware AP

“Next man up” is an easy thing for coaches to say, when inevitable injuries or bad news starts to pile up.

But the players who actually have to implement that slogan are still human beings, and sometimes it takes weeks for it to become a reality.

So the Chiefs don’t mind admitting it took them a moment to overcome the shock of losing running back Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL, or any of the other hurdles they’ve overcome along the way to five straight wins and the thick of the AFC playoff race.

“Without a doubt. You look at how much we’ve used Jamaal Charles, and he’s the focal point of this offense, it kind of left us with our palms up like, ‘Where do we go from here?’” tight end Travis Kelce said, via Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports. “But Charcandrick [West] has done an amazing job and Spencer Ware’s done a phenomenal job stepping in for both of them. It’s fun, it’s exciting when you see a guy step up into the shoes of Jamaal Charles. It just makes it that much more fun when you have success and win.”

The Chiefs were en route to a 1-4 when Charles went down with a torn ACL. But after a week for the shock to subside, they began playing the way they were capable of with one of the most dynamic runners in the game. Much of that has to do with West, but he missed yesterday with a hamstring injury and Ware ran for 114 yards and a touchdown. But it took some getting used to.

“Knowing that Jamaal isn’t back there, you start to concentrate a little more knowing you don’t have a guy as special and things like that,” Kelce said. “Not saying you don’t block your tail off for Jamaal, but there’s that consciousness in the back of your head that, ‘OK, if someone goes down, we have to make something out of it.'”

Of course, there’s also a pretty good role model for bouncing back still on the field with them as well.

“We just keep fighting,” said safety Eric Berry, who has come back after being diagnosed with lymphoma last year. “A lot of us have been through a lot of different things, on and off the field, and we just bring those experiences to the field and just keep pushing on and something is going to crack.”

So far, it’s the people the Chiefs are playing, five weeks in a row.

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Dan Campbell: Firing Lazor was my decision

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 22: Interim head coach Dan Campbell of the Miami Dolphins looks on during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Sun Life Stadium on November 22, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Dallas defeated Miami 24-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

During his appearance on PFT Live Monday, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald said that the decision to fire offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was made by interim head coach Dan Campbell and not executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum or anyone else in the front office.

Campbell said the same thing during his Monday press conference while discussing Lazor’s departure from the team. Campbell called it 100 percent his decision and that it came after he shared his feeling with Tannenbaum and team owner Stephen Ross. Campbell pointed to the team’s lack of balance offensively — 61 called passes in Sunday’s loss to the Jets and nine runs — as the reason why he wanted to make a change.

“We have to find a way to become a more physical offense,” Campbell said, via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We need more of a physical presence. How ever we establish that, that’s what I’m looking for. I don’t think we scare anybody in the AFC East and that bothers me. We need to find a way, even if it is two yards and a cloud of dust. … I am a more run-oriented person. I want to be more balanced. I like a more balanced approach.”

Campbell certainly isn’t the first to point out the lack of balance on offense for the Dolphins, but, then, you’d have to be blind not to pick it up. Excluding penalties that resulted in no official play, the Dolphins have dropped back to pass more than twice as often as they’ve run the ball this season and those numbers weren’t much closer during the 2014 season under Lazor either.

New offensive coordinator Zac Taylor said Monday he’s on board and that the team will “streamline what we do” to create more balance on offense moving forward. If the results aren’t any better, the end of the season will likely bring more changes to the coaching staff in Miami.

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Kelly denies any contact with USC

Chip Kelly AP

We know that USC isn’t hiring Chip Kelly to be its football coach, and Kelly said Monday that he never was going to be.

During his usual Monday press conference, the Eagles’ head coach said he never spoke to anyone connected with USC, which Monday announced that interim coach Clay Helton will become the school’s full-time coach. Kelly refuted a prior report that someone connected to USC had met with Kelly in Philadelphia last Friday to gauge his interest in the job.

“I wasn’t even in Philadelphia Friday,” Kelly said.

This is all part of the business and of the coaching carousel. Kelly said he understands that but reaffirmed his commitment to the struggling Eagles by saying he’s never been involved with any other job since taking over the Eagles in early 2013.

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