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NFL morning after: Statement Sunday — or was it?

Falcons tight end Gonzalez celebrates after a touchdown against the New York Giants in the first half at their NFL football game in Atlanta Reuters

With six different games matching up teams with winning records, yesterday was hyped by the NFL as “Statement Sunday.” And while it didn’t deliver a lot of particularly competitive games, it certainly did deliver a lot of statements: Statements about the strengths of the Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Texans, Cowboys and 49ers, and statements about the weaknesses of the Giants, Bears, Ravens, Colts, Steelers and Patriots.

But the thing about statements made in the NFL in December is that they often don’t hold up in January. And I’m not so sure that the teams that made statements on Sunday are going to be the teams that continue to make statements in the playoffs. So let me go through a few of the statements that were made on Sunday, and explain which ones are true and which ones are false.

1. The Falcons are the best team in the NFC. FALSE: Yes, the Falcons can make the statement that they’re the best team in the conference, both on the strength of their 34-0 win over the Giants and on their status as the team with the best record in the NFC. But the Falcons don’t play that well consistently — let’s not forget that a week earlier, they lost by 10 to a bad Carolina team. I’d pick either the Packers or the 49ers to win at Atlanta in January.

2. The Giants are in danger. TRUE: The flip side of the Falcons’ blowout over the Giants is that it really did expose some serious problems with the Giants, namely that Eli Manning has been painfully inconsistent, and that injuries in the secondary have done major damage to the defense. Early in the season it looked like the NFC East would belong to the Giants, but now it’s a three-team race, and the Redskins and Cowboys actually appear to be in better shape. The good news for the Giants is that they’ll make the playoffs if they win their final two. The bad news is that the way they played on Sunday, I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’ll win their final two.

3. The Bears are in free fall and will miss the playoffs. FALSE: It’s easy to see why Bears fans are panicking, having lost five of their last six games. But Chicago’s schedule is about to get a lot easier, with trips to Arizona and Detroit. I see the Bears winning both games, finishing 10-6, and sneaking into the playoffs.

4. The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Houston. TRUE: After the Texans’ disastrous loss in New England on Monday night, it would have been easy to disregard the Texans as legitimate title contenders. But the Texans clinched the AFC South with Sunday’s win over the Colts, and they’re now a win away from clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I think they’ll get that win against the Vikings on Sunday and ensure that if they rematch the Patriots, it will be in Houston.

5. The Broncos are the best team Peyton Manning has ever played on. TRUE: Does it sound premature to say that this year’s Broncos are better than Manning’s Super Bowl-winning 2006 team in Indianapolis? Maybe. But that team — like many of Manning’s teams in Indianapolis — had major holes on both defense and special teams that the Manning-led offense had to overcome. This Broncos team is winning every bit as much because of its defense as because of the Manning-led offense. If we could stuff these 2012 Broncos into a DeLorean and send them back in time to play any of Manning’s Indianapolis playoff teams, I’d pick these Broncos to win.

6. The Steelers blew it in overtime in Dallas and blew their postseason hopes. FALSE: The Steelers’ final two games are both at home, against the Bengals and the Browns, and if they win both they’re in the playoffs. I think Pittsburgh is going to do it.

7. New England’s Super Bowl hopes were dealt a big blow on Sunday night. FALSE: The Patriots’ loss to the 49ers probably means they’ll have to host a wild card team in the first playoff weekend, then win a couple of road games after that to get to the Super Bowl. But you know what? As much as I like the Broncos and Texans, I like the Patriots’ chances of winning at Denver and at Houston in back-to-back weeks. New England is still a formidable Super Bowl contender.

That’s where I stand on the statements NFL teams made on Sunday. And now here are my statements about the rest of Sunday’s action:

Adrian Peterson is making Eric Dickerson nervous. After his 212-yard effort on Sunday, Peterson needs to total 293 yards over the final two games of the season to break Dickerson’s NFL record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Gaining 293 yards in two weeks isn’t easy, but it’s certainly doable for Peterson, considering that he has 366 in the last two games. In the last eight games, Peterson has rushed for 1,313 yards, a stunning yardage total that no NFL player has ever matched over an eight-game stretch of a season.

Calvin Johnson is making Jerry Rice nervous. After his 121-yard effort on Sunday, Johnson needs to total 181 yards over the final two games of the season to break Rice’s NFL record of 1,848 receiving yards in a season. Johnson tied an NFL record with his seventh consecutive 100-yard game on Sunday, so totaling 181 yards over the next two games shouldn’t be a problem. Johnson also became the first player in NFL history to gain 1,600 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately for Johnson (and unlike Peterson), he’s threatening an NFL record while playing meaningless games for a bad team.

What’s JaMarcus Russell up to these days? I ask because the Raiders chose Russell first overall in the 2007 NFL draft, leaving Johnson available for the Lions to draft second overall, and Peterson available for the Vikings to draft seventh overall. Sorry to have to bring that one up, Raiders fans.

Trent Richardson’s first touchdown run was a thing of beauty. If you love good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed football, it doesn’t get much better than Richardson taking a handoff up the middle at the six-yard line, plunging into the middle and getting stacked up just as he crossed the line of scrimmage, and then simply refusing to go down as he drove forward, churning his legs and getting help from his entire offensive line while the entire Redskins’ defensive line was trying to stop him, and finally falling forward through that massive rugby scrum and into the end zone. As a rookie Richardson hasn’t been the big-play runner the Browns were hoping they’d get when they traded up to take him with the third overall pick in the draft, but he might be the toughest runner to tackle in the league.

Randall Cobb is better than you realize. Cobb had an unreal leaping catch along the sideline in the second quarter in Chicago, picking up 31 yards on third-and-six and somehow getting both feet down in bounds despite taking a hard hit just as he was grabbing the ball. Cobb has been an excellent player for the Packers since arriving last season as a second-round draft pick, but I don’t know if most fans realize just how excellent. Cobb has 2,241 combined rushing, receiving and return yards this season, and 3,857 all-purpose yards so far in his NFL career. That’s an incredible career total for a guy who’s only 22 years old.

The Seahawks are stunning. After beating the Cardinals 58-0 last week, the Seahawks beat the Bills 50-17 this week. The last NFL team to score 50 or more points in back-to-back weeks was the 1950 New York Giants, who beat the Chicago Cardinals 51-21 and then beat the Baltimore Colts 55-20 a week later. (A note of caution for Seahawks fans: Those 1950 Giants were held to just three points in a postseason loss that year.)

I guess Cam Cameron wasn’t the only problem with the Ravens’ offense. The Ravens fired Cameron as their offensive coordinator last week. So how did the offense in Baltimore do in the first game without him? Badly: The Ravens had six three-and-outs, the most of any team in the NFL all season, as they lost 34-17. On Statement Sunday, the Ravens made a statement that they’re not contenders in the AFC, and Cameron made a major statement in his absence: Don’t blame me.

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Washington says Cousins hasn’t been named the Week One starter

Kirk Cousins AP

During the Sunday broadcast of the preseason game between the Texans and Saints, FOX displayed a large graphic with photos of the three potential Week One quarterbacks in Washington, along with a claim at the bottom of the screen that Kirk Cousins has been named the Week One starter.

It was couched not as a report but as a fact. And it was news to me. It was also news to the team.

The team says it’s not true, deferring to the statements made after Saturday night’s game by coach Jay Gruden. Starter Robert Griffin III, who is cleared to practice but not play after suffering a concussion 10 days ago against the Lions, could still be cleared to play in the regular-season opener.

“I’m not going to announce anything right now,” Gruden said on Saturday night regarding Week One against Miami. “First of all, I need to read these reports. These reports are confusing. We need to sit down and talk to all the players involved, and make our decision as a staff and go from there. This was all put on us in the last minute. We had a great game. Kirk [Cousins] played great. Colt [McCoy] played great. And the offensive line played excellent. Defense got some turnovers. I was happy with the way we played, and the rest of this stuff will sort itself out.”

Gruden is right; there are so many conflicting reports and accounts that everyone is confused about what’s happening. Including whoever made the graphic at FOX.

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Buccaneers drop 10, including seventh-rounder Joey Iosefa

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The Buccaneers have made their first moves on the way to 75 players and one of the guys jettisoned was part of their 2015 draft class.

The team has waived seventh-round running back Joey Iosefa. Iosefa played tailback in college at Hawaii, but was moved to fullback with the Buccaneers after he joined the team. He had no carries or receptions in the preseason. Veteran Jorvorskie Lane is now the only fullback on the Tampa roster.

Iosefa is the only member of the seven-man draft class to leave the team thus far.

The Buccaneers also waived running back Dominique Brown, defensive tackle Quayshawne Buckley, offensive lineman Antoine Everett, long-snapper Brandon Hartson, safety Kimario McFadden, punter Karl Schmitz, cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz, defensive end George Uko and defensive end Jamal Young.

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Tom Coughlin: Victor Cruz won’t practice this week “as far as I know”

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It looks like Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz’s first game action since tearing his patellar tendon last year will come in the regular season.

Cruz has not played yet this preseason as the Giants were bringing him along cautiously early and a calf injury has kept him from the field more recently. That injury left coach Tom Coughlin “concerned” about the wideout last week and it doesn’t sound like that concern has gone away.

Coughlin was asked Sunday if Cruz would return to practice this week and said, via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, “not as far as I know” and that it wouldn’t be the “preferred way” to handle things to have Cruz return to action without any snaps during the preseason.

It might not be the way the Giants drew it up, but there’s not much they can do about it at this point. If Cruz isn’t healthy enough to play in August, the team has no choice but to roll the dice when he eventually gets the green light in the fall. The offense has certainly looked like it could use Cruz on the field, although his limited action of any kind the last month means it will be a mystery what they’ll get when he is finally able to return.

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Brian Hoyer, DeAndre Hopkins look good together in New Orleans

Brian Hoyer, DeAndre Hopkins AP

The Texans have ended their quarterback competition by naming Brian Hoyer as the starter for the first week of the regular season, but coach Bill O’Brien has made it clear that he won’t be afraid to turn to Ryan Mallett if Hoyer can’t find a way to lead a successful offense.

One way Hoyer can keep that from happening is by looking for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hoyer did that twice early in Sunday’s game against the Saints and the drive ended with a touchdown for the Texans. Hoyer found DeAndre Hopkins open against Saints corner Keenan Lewis for 29 yards down the sideline on the second play of the game and then went Hopkins’s direction again in the end zone.

Lewis was flagged for pass interference after Hopkins got the best of him again, although that didn’t stop Hopkins from reeling in the ball as he went out of bounds. After a replay, the ruling was that Hopkins didn’t complete the catch process in time and Alfred Blue scored two plays later.

Hoyer looked sharp in general and finished 7-of-11 for 82 yards while also leading the Texans to a field goal before Ryan Mallett was roused from his slumber to lead the team on their fourth offensive possession of the game.

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Report: Football people want RG3 out of Washington, Snyder says no

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Robert Griffin III is reportedly remaining in Washington only because owner Dan Snyder is overruling the football people who want to depart with the quarterback.

Front office officials and coaches want to move on from Griffin but are meeting resistance from ownership, according to ESPN.

The report says the team has talked about trading Griffin, but there’s been no interest. That’s no surprise: Griffin has a guaranteed salary of $3.3 million this year and would be owed a whopping $16.2 million next year if he suffered a severe injury. There’s no way for any team to justify committing that kind of money to a player who has played as poorly as Griffin over the last two years.

From all indications, coach Jay Gruden — who spent most of the offseason insisting that Griffin would be the starter — has lots any confidence he ever had in Griffin as a quarterback. Both Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy have far outplayed Griffin this preseason. General Manager Scot McCloughan, who was hired this year, has no particular loyalty to Griffin either.

But Snyder has loved Griffin since the team traded up in the 2012 draft to get him, and Snyder apparently isn’t willing to let go. And that’s the only thing keeping Griffin in Washington.

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Report: AC joint sprain for Randall Cobb

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Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb feared a broken collarbone when he was first injured in Saturday’s game against the Eagles, but they were able to rule out an injury of that severity before the night was over.

Cobb went for further tests on Sunday and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that he has been diagnosed with a “minor” AC joint sprain.

It’s a better outcome than a broken collarbone, certainly, but Cobb probably can’t be assured of playing against the Bears in Week One. Players have missed good chunks of time with similar injuries — Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson hasn’t played at all in the preseason after spraining his AC joint early in training camp — and it will take some time before the Packers will have a clear idea about his status.

If Cobb can’t play, the Packers would start their season without both of their top wideouts since Jordy Nelson is out with a torn ACL. Barring any additions from outside the organization, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery would likely be the top three receivers in their absence.

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Titans shave 10 from their roster

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Plenty of players will be getting bad news in the next few days as teams make their cuts to 75 players.

The Titans delivered that bad news to 10 former members of their club on Sunday.

Offensive lineman Fernando Velasco is the most experienced member of the unlucky group. Velasco signed with the Titans in June for a second tour of duty with the team he started his NFL career with as an undrafted free agent. Velasco spent four years with the team before moving on to Pittsburgh and Carolina the last two years.

The Titans also dropped linebacker Nate Askew, cornerback Will Brown, linebacker Dezmond Johnson, wide receiver Tebucky Jones, wide receiver Deon Long, defensive end Derrick Lott, guard Justin McCray, kicker Mike Meyer and linebacker Chaz Sutton. They’ll need to get down to 75 players by Tuesday.

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Report: Arthur Jones to see ankle specialist after having MRI

Arthur Jones AP

Colts defensive tackle Arthur Jones left Saturday’s game against the Rams in a walking boot after injuring his left ankle early in the contest.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that x-rays on the ankle were negative, but coach Chuck Pagano said that Jones would undergo a full evaluation on Sunday. That evaluation will apparently include a visit to an ankle specialist.

Josina Anderson of ESPN reports that Jones had an MRI on Sunday and that he will now go to see a specialist as he looks for an answer about the severity of his injury.

It’s a familiar situation for the Colts, who played without Jones seven times last season while he was making his way back from a high ankle sprain. He’s a big part of their plans to have a better run defense this season, so another extended absence would be a blow to the Colts up front. Montori Hughes and Zach Kerr saw first-team snaps at defensive tackle after Jones left the game.

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Russell Wilson: We’ll be just fine on offense

Russell Wilson AP

The Seahawks starting offense failed to score a touchdown for the third time in three preseason games on Saturday and they managed just two field goals against the Chargers despite playing into the third quarter.

Concern created about those shortcomings have largely centered on the passing attack. Russell Wilson was 7-of-15 for 56 yards against San Diego and missed tight end Jimmy Graham twice on plays that would have helped Seattle in their quest for a touchdown. Coach Pete Carroll said after the game that the team wasn’t sharp enough and “missed throws we normally make.” Wilson didn’t disagree with the coach, but said that he was confident things will be better when the games start counting in the standings.

“Ultimately, we have to finish drives. That’s on me. But we’ll hit ’em,” Wilson said, via the Tacoma News Tribune. “We’ll be just fine. So I’m excited about it. … I definitely think I’m ready. Can’t wait to play. We are definitely moving the ball,” he added. We just need to finish. That’s the most important thing. And we will.”

One thing that should help is a full dose of Marshawn Lynch in the offense. Lynch played for the first time this summer on Saturday, running twice and catching a pass, and the Seahawks offense is at its best when Lynch is bullying his way through defenses. More continuity on the offensive line, which was missing left tackle Russell Okung against the Chargers, should also help as the team tries to find a groove that’s eluded them thus far in the preseason.

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Browns, who talked about Ray Rice, may sign a running back

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If Ray Rice is ever going to get back into the NFL, this may be his best chance.

The Browns, who have admitted to at least talking about the possibility of signing Rice, are now in the market for a running back. Coach Mike Pettine said today that the team might have to add a running back after injuries to Duke Johnson and Shaun Draughn.

Rice played for Browns running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery in Baltimore, and Pettine was also on the Ravens’ staff during Rice’s tenure there. And Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is on the record as saying that Rice deserves another shot.

So the Browns appear to be a team that is willing to deal with the off-field fallout of signing Rice, who became the poster boy for the NFL’s domestic violence problem last year. The next question is whether they think Rice can help them on the field.

Last year the Browns had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL, and if anything their running backs look even worse this preseason: The leading rusher, Terrance West, has just 78 yards on 22 carries, and overall the Browns’ running backs are averaging 2.8 yards a carry through three preseason games. So it would seem that Rice — even though he averaged just 3.1 yards a carry in 2013 — could be an improvement.

Which means that if the Browns aren’t willing to sign Rice, that probably means no NFL team is ever going to sign Rice.

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With two kickers still on roster, Jaguars could be looking for trade

Josh Scobee AP

The Jaguars have already made their way to 75 players and they kept two kickers through the first wave of cuts.

Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union thinks that they may be hoping to land a late-round draft pick in a trade for one of them before the cuts to 53 players. The question would be which of the kickers would be able to get them that kind of return.

Josh Scobee has been the kicker in Jacksonville for more than a decade and has made both of his field goal attempts this summer while also reaching the end zone on all five of his kickoffs. Jason Myers has hit on four of the five field goals he’s tried, missing from 58 yards, and put seven of his eight kickoffs into the end zone to earn good reviews for both his leg strength and accuracy.

Scobee is the proven entity, which might make him an appealing target for the Steelers in the wake of Garrett Hartley’s hamstring injury assuming the team is willing to pay the salary — $3.425 million — that comes with that status. Myers is cheaper, but has no regular season experience to entice a team looking for an upgrade at the position.

It may work against the Jaguars that there’s little chance they keep both kickers through the cuts to 53 players since the Steelers or other teams might prefer to hold onto their picks while seeing who winds up on the chopping block.

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Dante Fowler officially on injured reserve as Jags drop to 75 players

Dante Fowler Jr. AP

The Jaguars didn’t need to wait until Tuesday’s deadline to set their 75-man roster.

The team made their moves on Saturday, a day after facing the Lions in their third preseason game of the year. One of the moves is something we’ve been anticipating since their rookie minicamp in May.

Defensive end and third overall pick Dante Fowler tore his ACL at the first practice of that minicamp, but has remained on the active roster because any earlier attempts to put him on injured reserve would have required Fowler to go through waivers. The team also placed tackle Josh Wells on injured reserve and waived/injured wide receiver Greg Jenkins.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel, cornerback Tommie Campbell and wide receiver Tandon Doss are probably the best-known names among the 12 players waived by Jacksonville. Linebacker Mister Alexander, defensive end Camaron Beard, offensive lineman Cody Booth, safety Desmond Cooper, defensive tackle Eric Crume, linebacker Khairi Fortt, tight end Connor Hamlett, kicker/punter Kasey Redfern and offensive lineman Jack Rummells were also dropped from the roster.

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G.J. Kinne among early Eagles cuts

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The Eagles gave quarterback G.J. Kinne a chance to try to make the team by showing what he could do as a wide receiver this summer, but those efforts didn’t help him survive the first round of cuts in Philadelphia.

Kinne was one of 12 players cut by the Eagles on Sunday as they start making their way to 75 players ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. Kinne has spent time on the Eagles practice squad the last two years, but has never appeared in a regular season game.

Tackle Kevin Graf, who spent time on the team’s active roster last season without seeing game action, was also waived.

Cornerback Marc Anthony, safety Brandan Bishop, center Mike Coccia, defensive end Alfy Hill, wide receiver Mike Johnson, linebacker Dasman McCullum, wide receiver Josh Reese, defensive end Jeremy Towns, tight end Justin Tukes and offensive lineman Jared Wheeler round out the first set of cuts.

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No ligament damage for Leonard Williams

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The Jets can breathe a sigh of relief about defensive end Leonard Williams.

The first-round pick was forced from Saturday night’s victory over the Giants with a knee injury. X-rays taken on Saturday night came back negative and there are multiple reports that a subsequent MRI showed no ligament damage.

Williams has been diagnosed with a muscle strain behind his knee and the team does not believe it will be a long-term injury. Williams will have two weeks to recover before the Jets start the regular season with a game against the Browns.

As long as he’s healthy, Williams will be in the starting lineup with Muhammad Wilkerson at defensive end while Sheldon Richardson begins serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Williams has looked up to the task this summer and the Jets defense looked strong across the board while holding the Giants starters to seven points and scoring a touchdown of their own on an Antonio Cromartie interception return.

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Chargers say Frank Clark tried to punch Philip Rivers

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Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers appears to have avoided serious injury when he banged his right hand during Saturday’s game against the Seahawks and that apparently wasn’t his only close call of the night.

Chargers offensive linemen reacted strongly to what they say was an attempt by Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark to punch Rivers after the quarterback was sacked by Jordan Hill in the second quarter. A scrum broke out after the play and Chargers tackle King Dunlap was given a 15-yard penalty for yanking Clark out of the pile.

“That guy was on top of Philip, and that’s our quarterback,” Dunlap said, via U-T San Diego. “I protect the quarterback at all costs.”

Video of the play shows Rivers holding onto Clark’s jersey after the sack and it’s hard to see what else might have gone on to elicit the strong reaction from the Chargers. After the game, Clark was asked about the incident (but not the allegation that he tried to punch Rivers) and said Richard Sherman told him he has to avoid them even if this one didn’t result in a penalty against Seattle.

“Man this game, it’s a lot of emotions is involved,” Clark said, via the Seattle Times. “I’m a real emotional player but there are ways you react and ways you don’t react. You’ve got to be smart in this game. That was something Sherm [Richard Sherman] was telling me afterwards, that whole thing, even though I didn’t get called for anything, just to avoid situations like that.”

The Seahawks drafted Clark in the second round despite a domestic violence arrest that led to his dismissal from the Michigan team last November. The charge was downgraded to disorderly conduct as part of a plea arrangement in April.

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