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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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Mike Tice: Falcons’ O-line “won’t be punked over by anybody”

miketice AP

The toughness of the Falcons’ offensive line has been questioned often in the last year, most notably by owner Arthur Blank, who said he was bothered when none of the Falcons’ offensive linemen reacted to a hit on quarterback Matt Ryan. This year, Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice says his unit’s toughness won’t be in question.

Tice approved of the way his linemen went after defensive players who hit Ryan during the preseason, and he said opposing defenses had better know there will be no free shots at the Falcons’ quarterback this year.

“The one thing they won’t be, they won’t be punked over by anybody,” Tice said of his line, via ESPN. “That’s encouraging.”

The Falcons’ offensive line may be tougher, but it remains to be seen whether the Falcons’ offensive line will be better. The loss of left tackle Sam Baker will force Atlanta to start rookie Jake Matthews at left tackle this season, which means an unproven player is protecting Ryan’s blind side. The Falcons’ offensive line may not “be punked over,” but they still may struggle against good pass rushers.

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Ryan Shazier set to join exclusive club for Steelers

Carolina Panthers v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

No pressure, kid.

It’s not very often a defensive rookie starts the opener for the Steelers, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is about to do just that.

According to Ron Musselman of the Beaver County Times, Shazier will be the first since Kendrell Bell 13 years ago, and he went onto win defensive rookie of the year honors.

Prior to that, the last one was Jack Lambert in 1974, so Shazier realizes the expectations.

It’s been a dream of mine my whole life, to play in the NFL, and then the first game of my career is going to be a start,” Shazier said. “Words will not even be able to describe it. It puts me in nice company.”

Yes it does.

While their defense has been traditionally good, they’ve needed a shot of youth over there for some time. Shazier’s shown the athleticism and instincts needed, and should help immediately.

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Cowboys bringing in new defensive options

Lance Moore, C.J. Spillman AP

The Cowboys defense has been the subject of nothing but pessimistic prognostications, but the team is working to find improvement over the players they kept on the initial 53-man roster.

They’re looking to the NFC West for two additions. According to multiple reports, former 49ers safety C.J. Spillman and former Seahawks linebacker Korey Toomer will be signing with the team.

Spillman is the more experienced of the two players and has played in every game for the 49ers over the last three seasons. The majority of that work has come on special teams, although the Cowboys probably won’t be looking down their noses at anyone who might be able to help the defense. If the 49ers are lax about securing their signals, Spilman could also give the Cowboys an edge come Sunday in the opener for both teams.

Toomer was on waivers, but the Cowboys did not claim him and will instead be signing him directly to the 53-man roster. Injuries have kept the 2012 fifth-round pick from contributing, but his ability has led to plenty of offseason notice and, again, the Cowboys need all the help they can find.

The Cowboys will need to open two roster spots with the move of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to injured reserve/return one possibility.

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Chiefs claim Damion Square, sign nine to practice squad

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Getty Images

When you see a player move from the Eagles to the Chiefs, the impulse is to say that Chiefs coach Andy Reid made the move because of some knowledge he gleaned while he was still in Philadelphia.

That’s not the case with defensive lineman Damion Square, however. Square didn’t join the Eagles until Reid was already in Kansas City, so the Chiefs’ decision to claim him off of waivers wasn’t based on insider information.

Square played 10 games for the Eagles as a rookie and made four tackles. His addition gives them six defensive linemen and Square will likely work to earn snaps at end in the coming days. The Chiefs released tight end Richard Gordon to make room for him on the roster.

The Chiefs also announced that linebacker Nico Johnson, center Ben Gottschalk, running back Charcandrick West, guard Ricky Henry, wide receiver Darryl Surgent, wide receiver Fred Williams, fullback Jordan Campbell and defensive end Kona Schwenke have signed to the practice squad. The agent for former Bears linebacker Jerry Franklin said his client has also joined the practice squad in Kansas City, where Franklin will reunite with Chiefs (and former Bears) special teams coach Dave Toub.

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Monday morning one-liners

Andre Holmes, Shareece Wright AP

Five things the Bills want you to know about QB Kyle Orton.

Lamenting the departure of S Jordan Kovacs from the Dolphins.

LB Steve Beauharnais accepted an injury settlement from the Patriots.

Things have broken right for Jets WR David Nelson.

Ravens RB Ray Rice and S Will Hill have to work out on their own for a while.

How long will Bengals QB A.J. McCarron be sidelined by injury?

Browns QB Brian Hoyer will face the Steelers, a team he’s played for, in Week One.

WR Markus Wheaton is looking forward to playing a big role for the Steelers.

How quickly will QB Ryan Mallett be able to help the Texans?

Colts WR Reggie Wayne is preparing to be on the opposite sideline from former teammate Peyton Manning.

The Jags are working to get better on special teams.

The Titans know the benefits of a quick start.

Broncos CB Chris Harris is excited about getting back on the field.

The Chiefs are buying into QB Alex Smith.

It isn’t easy to project the Raiders 53-man roster way in advance.

Chargers CB Shareece Wright feels like he’s matured.

Newcomers will play a big role for the Cowboys this year.

The Giants defense will be tested right out of the gate.

Injuries to others have kicked up the pressure on the healthy Eagles linebackers.

The Redskins didn’t bring RB Lache Seastrunk back to the practice squad.

Bears coach Marc Trestman says he’ll spend more time with the defense this season.

Several players felt the impact of playing the Lions in the preseason.

C Corey Linsley is set for an integral role with the Packers.

Vikings rookie LB Anthony Barr is excited about his regular season debut.

Falcons DT Ra’Shede Hageman has been miked up a lot this summer.

The Panthers went with familiar faces on their practice squad.

WR Brandon Coleman hopes to make a good impression on the Saints in practice.

Breaking down the Buccaneers roster after cutdown day.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald is working to get back into the flow.

Revisiting 10 questions about the Rams.

49ers players were popular on the waiver wire.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson spent some time rooting for Wisconsin this weekend.

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Bills’ Eric Wood blames ESPN for lack of interest in Michael Sam

michaelsam AP

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, was cut by the Rams on Saturday and passed over by all 31 other teams on waivers on Sunday, and so far he hasn’t even been able to land a spot on a practice squad. So are NFL teams avoiding Sam because he’s gay?

According to one NFL player, the answer to that question is yes — but not because teams are homophobic. Bills center Eric Wood says teams are avoiding Sam because they don’t want the ESPN hype that would come with having Sam, the only openly gay player in football, on the team. In response to a question from Ross Tucker about Sam’s lack of practice squad offers, Wood said ESPN is to blame.

Last week ESPN apologized for a report that quoted an unnamed Rams player as saying that Sam hadn’t showered with teammates in training camp. But even aside from that report, Wood’s view is the most sensible explanation for why Sam remains out of work: NFL teams just don’t like seeing one player singled out for any reason other than his play on the field.

Although there were some questions before this year’s draft about whether Sam would be a good fit in any NFL defense, Sam played well enough in the Rams’ scheme during his four preseason games that it’s surprising the Rams haven’t added him to their practice squad. It’s even more surprising that no other team has picked Sam up. It would be nice if some team had the guts to give Sam the chance he deserves, but Wood may be right that Sam is paying the price for teams being scared of distractions.

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Sixth-round pick Matt Hazel among 10 additions to Miami’s practice squad

Matt Hazel AP

The Dolphins’ initial practice squad includes one of their draft picks.

Sixth-round pick Matt Hazel, a wide receiver from Coastal Carolina, was among the 10 signees to the practice squad announced by Miami on Sunday.

The 22-year-old Hazel caught six passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in preseason play for Miami.

The Dolphins’ other practice squad additions are center Sam Brenner, offensive tackle Tony Hills, linebacker David Hinds, quarterback Seth Lobato, tight end Jacob Maxwell, defensive end D’Aundre Reed, cornerback Lowell Rose, defensive tackle Garrison Smith and wide receiver Tommy Streeter. Brenner, Lobato, Reed and Smith were waived by Miami on Saturday, then re-signed to the practice squad after clearing waivers.

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Robert Griffin III gets a statue at his alma mater

rg3statue AP

Robert Griffin III traveled from Washington to Waco this weekend to see himself immortalized at the age of 24.

Griffin was back at the campus of Baylor, the school where he won the Heisman Trophy and where a new football stadium has opened that features a bronze statue of Griffin outside.

“It’s amazing. You don’t dream about that kind of stuff,” Griffin told the Waco Tribune. “There’s a Statue of Liberty and all those other statues, but you don’t ever dream of having a statue honored in your name. That’s a blessing. It comes from God, and I don’t look at it as anyone putting me on a pedestal. I look at it as I know where my blessings come from, and they’re using me in a way to help other people. Not just to say, ‘he’s a great football player.’ I hope they say, ‘he’s a great man’ as well.”

Baylor President Ken Starr talked about Griffin in glowing terms, saying he hopes people will visit Waco to see Griffin’s statue just as they visit Washington to see the Lincoln Memorial and visit New York City to see the Statue of Liberty.

Griffin’s disappointing second season in the NFL has led to many questions about whether he can ever live up to the promise he showed as a rookie. But at Baylor, he’s still an idol.

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Jets add Matt Simms, six others to practice squad

New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Jets have re-signed one of the quarterbacks they waived Saturday to their practice squad.

Matt Simms, who was among the club’s final cuts, is among the first seven players added to the Jets’ practice roster, the team said Sunday.

Another practice squad addition was ex-Rams tailback Daryl Richardson, whom the Jets also waived Saturday.

The Jets’ other practice squad signees were defensive tackle Tevita Finau, defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, safety Rontez Miles, tight end Chris Pantale and offensive tackle Brett Qvale.

The Jets have three more practice squad spots to be filled.

Among the Jets’ cuts who have yet to be added to a practice squad is rookie quarterback Tajh Boyd, who cleared waivers Sunday.

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Chiefs extend Alex Smith

Smith AP

Alex Smith was prepared to pull the plug on contract talks if they ever became a distraction.  It never got to that point.

After an intense and largely secretive day of negotiations, the Chiefs and Smith have worked out a four-year, $68 million extension.

Per a league source, Smith gets $30 million guaranteed at signing.  Another $15 million in injury-only guarantee vests in March 2015.

Smith, who is still only 30 years old, was traded to the Chiefs last year for what ultimately became two second-round picks.  He performed very well in his first season with Kansas City, leading the team to the playoffs and having one of the best days of his career, which has become overlooked via the second-half defensive collapse that blew a 38-10 lead in Indianapolis.

Coupled with his 2014 base salary of $7.5 million, Smith gets $75.5 million over five years, an average of $15.1 million.

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Smith was regarded as a borderline bust until Jim Harbaugh arrived as head coach.  A very strong 2011 led to an equally impressive 2012.  But a concussion gave Colin Kaepernick a chance to play, and he played well enough to send Smith to the bench — and ultimately out the door.

Now, Smith has a contract that is much, much (did I say much?) better than the team-friendly deal that Kaepernick signed earlier this year.

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Cowboys bring running back Ryan Williams back to practice squad

Dallas Cowboys v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

As it turns out, Devon Still isn’t the only former second-rounder to make a practice squad this weekend, but at least he’s on the team that drafted him.

Among the seven practice-squaders signed by the Cowboys Sunday was running back Ryan Williams.

Williams was taken by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2011 Draft, 38th overall. He had a solid preseason for the Cowboys, but was released yesterday, as the Cowboys kept just Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle behind starter DeMarco Murray.

The Cowboys also signed wide receiver Tim Benford, defensive end Kenneth Boatright, center Ronald Patrick, safety Micah Pellerin and linebackers Keith Smith and Will Smith.

They also released tackle John Wetzel from the active roster to make room for guard Donald Hawkins, after claiming him off waivers from the Browns.

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Mike Pettine hints Rex Grossman might be back soon

Rex Grossman, Cornelius Washington AP

We should have seen this coming. The NFL simply could not be without Rex Grossman for too long.

The Browns cut Grossman earlier today during a spate of roster moves, but Browns coach Mike Pettine said that might be temporary.

I wouldn’t read too much into it right now,” Pettine said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Some guys could come back. It’s fluid.”

The Browns also waived wide receiver Charles Johnson and offensive linemen Karim Barton and Martin Wallace, after claiming four players off waivers.

But Grossman has a link none of those players have, an all-but-the-tattoo relationship with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan which has kept him employed for several years.

Whether the Browns bring him back this week, or in Week Two when his salary wouldn’t be guaranteed for the year, it appears obvious he’ll be back.

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Cardinals claim outside linebacker Thomas Keiser off waivers

Thomas Keiser AP

The Cardinals and Chargers will play twice in 11 days, since the rematch of the preseason finale will be played next Monday night.

Thomas Keiser will have the rare ability to play for both teams.

The Cardinals claimed the outside linebacker, who was waived by the Chargers yesterday, according to the league’s transaction notice. They waived wide receiver Walter Powell to make room on the roster.

Keiser’s a reasonably talented pass-rusher, who had 4.5 sacks last year, but the Chargers used a second-round pick on Jeremiah Attaochu and brought in CFL pass-rusher Cordarro Law.

Keiser also had an arrest for misdemeanor battery from a fight outside a San Diego bar last year. He pleaded guilty, and has to attend anger management classes.

But he’s also a competent pass-rusher, and the Cardinals are looking for all the help they can get after losing piece after piece this offseason.

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Report: Packers work out three quarterbacks Sunday

Miami Dolphins OTA Getty Images

The Packers, who kept two backup quarterbacks on their 53-player roster, reportedly took a look at three other quarterbacks on Sunday.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, the Packers put Pat Devlin, Jeff Mathews and Jon Jennings through workouts on Sunday.

The 26-year-old Devlin has the most NFL experience of the trio. He spent the previous three seasons with the Dolphins. Miami released Devlin (6-3, 220) with an injury settlement on August 19. Devlin played collegiately at Delaware.

A Cornell product, Mathews spent time with the Falcons this summer before being waived August 24. He signed as undrafted free agent with Atlanta in May. Mathews (6-4, 229) agreed to join the Colts’ practice squad on Sunday.

Jennings (6-2, 205) is a rookie from Saginaw Valley State. He was collegiate teammates with Packers wide receiver Jeff Janis.

It’s possible the Packers were working out the three quarterbacks with an eye on being prepared in case a passer needed to be added at a moment’s notice. Such workouts are not uncommon.

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Irsay’s plea deal puts him in line for suspension

Jim Irsay AP

After Colts owner Jim Irsay was arrested for driving while impaired, some thought the NFL would hold him to a higher standard by suspending him before his case was finalized.  Irsay’s plea deal, which apparently will be finalized on Tuesday, means that any discipline will be imposed after the case has ended.

The question now becomes whether the NFL will hold Irsay to a higher standard by suspending him for a first-offense DUI.  Players typically are fined two game checks for a first offense, absent serious injury or other discipline under the substance-abuse policy.

Adam Schefter of ESPN previously has reported that league insiders expect a six-to-eight game suspension for Irsay.  Don’t be surprised if the suspension comes this week, before the Colts travel to Denver for the first Sunday night of the season.

The financial component of the penalty remains unknown.  In Irsay’s case, he could be fined an amount that raises eyebrows, in isolation.  But he likely won’t face an apples-to-apples penalty, with 1/17th of his total income taken away for each week of the suspension.  That’s what happens when a player is suspended.  To simulate the penalty, the league would have to take a drastic step, such as blocking the Colts’ share of league revenue for each week of the suspension.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether Irsay will be subjected to the same frequency and type of drug testing routinely imposed on a player in the program — and whether Irsay would ever face the ultimate consequence of a one-year banishment.

This much is clear and undeniable.  Irsay’s alleged operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of prescription medication posed a much greater threat than Josh Gordon smoking marijuana ever did.  Whatever the penalty imposed on Irsay, it’ll be difficult if not impossible to reconcile the punishment meted out to player and to owner.

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