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NFL morning after: Bad rules a big problem for the NFL

waltcoleman AP

After Monday night’s mess in Carolina, where the game ended with a pass interference penalty in the end zone being picked up without explanation by the referee, I didn’t want to spend Sunday thinking about rules and referees. But it was hard not to think on Sunday that the NFL has a real problem on its hands with rules that are written badly, and officials who enforce those rules inconsistently.

Everyone likes to bash the referees when they get something wrong, and I’m going to criticize the referees here today, but it’s important to remember that the referees can only enforce the rules that the NFL gives them. And I’m starting to think that a bigger problem is that the NFL’s rules simply aren’t written clearly enough to allow the officials to do their jobs properly.

Here’s a sampling of my thoughts on the rules on Sunday:

I still don’t know what roughing the passer is. In the Buccaneers-Lions game, Detroit defensive tackle Nick Fairley hit Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in the leg and was called for roughing the passer. According to the referee, it was because Fairley hit Glennon too low. But the problem is, Fairley’s hit on Glennon was in about the same part of the leg as Chargers defensive lineman Corey Liuget’s hit on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning a couple weeks ago. Liuget wasn’t flagged and wasn’t fined and the NFL confirmed that Liuget’s hit was legal. But if Liuget’s hit was legal, I’m not sure why Fairley’s was illegal. And that wasn’t even the only roughing the passer call in that game I couldn’t figure out: Later in the same game, Tampa Bay’s Mark Barron was flagged for an even harder to understand roughing call against Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. And don’t get me started on Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers‘ flag for a clean hit on Josh McCown.

Protecting quarterbacks is a priority, or is it? Last week, when 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks was flagged for a hit to the neck of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL said it was the right call, supposedly because protecting quarterbacks is a priority. So why wasn’t Pittsburgh’s William Gay flagged on Sunday for his hit to the head of Jason Campbell? In both cases, a defensive player went high and hit a quarterback who was still holding the ball, forcing a fumble. When it was Brees getting clotheslined, it was a flag. When it was Campbell getting knocked out of the game with a concussion, it wasn’t a flag? Why? As far as I can tell, the answer is that the rules about protecting quarterbacks aren’t written clearly enough for the referees to call them consistently.

Referees are out of position even when they’re in position. Miami’s Cameron Wake lowered his helmet and drilled Carolina’s Cam Newton in the chin, and Newton ended up spitting out blood. It was a clear penalty on Wake, but the referee didn’t throw the flag. Why? Former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira said the ref was positioned exactly where he’s supposed to be, but just didn’t see it. But if that’s the case, the NFL needs to have an official positioned in a place where he will see a hit like that, or make hits to the head of quarterbacks reviewable on instant replay.

Coaches should be allowed to challenge personal fouls. Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was tripped and fell into Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s leg, triggering a flag for a personal foul. On replay, it was clear that Wilkerson only hit Flacco because he was tripped, but the referee can’t look at the replay to get the call right. Jets coach Rex Ryan should have been allowed to challenge, but under NFL rules, he couldn’t.

Coaches shouldn’t be allowed to delay games by throwing bogus challenge flags. As Detroit’s offense was lining up following a missed Tampa Bay field goal, Bucs coach Greg Schiano threw his red challenge flag. After a long delay in which Schiano and the referee conversed on the sideline, it was announced that Schiano had tried to challenge a call that wasn’t reviewable — namely, whether the Bucs’ kick had gone through the goalposts or over a goal post. Under NFL rules, it wasn’t a penalty for Schiano to throw that flag even when he couldn’t challenge. But it should be. Why should Schiano be allowed to delay the game and give his defense time to adjust to the way the Lions’ offense lined up? Later on Sunday afternoon, Giants coach Tom Coughlin did the same thing, throwing his red flag even though the play in question wasn’t reviewable. If a coach throws a challenge flag for something that can’t be challenged, he should be charged a timeout.

A huge missed call cost the Vikings, and the referee was powerless to review it. Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk blatantly grabbed and twisted Adrian Peterson’s facemask before forcing Peterson to fumble. It was an obvious penalty, and the officials should have seen it. But they missed it, and the referee couldn’t use replay to review it because for some odd reason facemasking isn’t subject to replay reviews. If we’re going to have instant replay at all, and if we’re going to have all turnovers automatically reviewed, why on earth can’t the referee look at the replay, see the blatant facemask, and get the call right?

No one knows what constitutes a catch. Late in the Cowboys’ win over the Giants, Dallas’s Dez Bryant grabbed a pass from Tony Romo, went to the ground and then lost possession. The officials ruled it incomplete, and I think the officials got it right. But the NFL’s convoluted rules about what constitutes a catch make it almost impossible for anyone to say with any confidence what will or will not be ruled a catch, and there were plenty of fans on Twitter saying they were sure Bryant had caught the pass. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett seemed to think it was a catch, too, as he called a timeout in the hopes that the extra time would trigger the replay assistant to tell the referee to review the play — which he didn’t do. The NFL simply has to do a better job of explaining what makes a catch and what makes an incompletion, so fans and coaches aren’t left confused at big moments in big games.

Forward progress isn’t clearly defined. The biggest play of the Giants-Cowboys game came when Giants receiver Victor Cruz caught a pass, was wrapped up by two Cowboys, then had the ball ripped out of his hands. The officials ruled it a fumble, and Dallas’s Jeff Heath picked it up and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the game that it was “unbelievable” that the officials didn’t rule Cruz’s forward progress had been stopped, but I can believe it because I see forward progress ruled inconsistently every week.

The NFL should eject players who enter the field during fights. When Rams defensive end Chris Long saw his brother, Bears guard Kyle Long, engaged in a skirmish on the field, Chris ran from the sideline onto the field to grab Kyle and pull him away. Chris may have simply been trying to break up the fight, but even if all they’re trying to do is break up a fight, players shouldn’t run onto the field and into a skirmish. One of the ugliest incidents in the history of American sports came in a 1977 NBA game, when Rudy Tomjanovich ran into a skirmish and Kermit Washington reacted by turning around and swinging, shattering bones in Tomjanovich’s face. The way to avoid such incidents is for all players to allow the officials to break up fights, not enter fights themselves. Other sports give automatic ejections to players who run from the sideline onto the field during a fight, and the NFL should, too.

I don’t like the overtime rule. Overtime in Green Bay felt unsatisfying all around. Here’s how I’d change the overtime rules: 1. Do away with the overtime kickoff. 2. Let the home team pick which yard line the first overtime possession will start on. 3. Let the road team pick whether to start on offense or defense, based on where the home team put the ball to start overtime. 4. Play pure sudden death, first team to score wins, and play until someone scores, with no ties.

NFL refs have a communication problem. The NFL admitted after last week’s Monday Night Football mess that referee Clete Blakeman dropped the ball when he failed to explain why a flag thrown on Carolina’s Luke Kuechly in the end zone was picked up, and the league office told refs last week that they need to use their microphones to explain to the fans why penalty flags get picked up. Amazingly, on Sunday against Miami, Kuechly committed another penalty on a pass into the end zone — and again, an official threw a flag, only to have the referee announce that there wouldn’t be a penalty, without explaining why. How does the NFL allow this to continue happening? The referees need to explain themselves. And the NFL needs to give the referees clearer rules to work with, so those explanations will make more sense.

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Report: Goodell soon expressed misgivings about Rice’s two-game ban

Roger Goodell AP

Among the many revelations in ESPN’s investigation of the decisions made by the NFL and Baltimore Ravens after Ray Rice’s arrest in February was that league commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly soon had second thoughts about handing down just a two-game suspension of Rice.

The ESPN report claims that “within days” of Rice’s initial ban on July 24, Goodell told someone close to him that “he wasn’t sure he had done the right thing,” wrote reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg, citing two unnamed sources. The report also said Goodell seemed to indicate he had been persuaded not to give Rice a harsher punishment — and that the commissioner “regretted” this, wrote Van Natta Jr. and Van Valkenburg.

Goodell would later change course on Rice, publicly saying in late August he erred in handing down the two-game suspension when unveiling a new domestic violence policy. And less than two weeks later, Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

But Rice’s longer suspension came only after video emerged of him hitting his now-wife in Atlantic City in February. The video, released by TMZ, was posted three days before the tailback was to sit out the last of those two games he was banned.

Only then, after the video went viral, did the league change course. By then, though, the outrage with the NFL and the Ravens had come to a boil. And the simmering really started when the league announced it was benching Rice for all of 120 minutes of regulation to begin the season.

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Report: Ravens made a mess of this from beginning to end

bisciottirice AP

There’s no wonder the Ravens were calling an emergency meeting this afternoon.

An investigation by ESPN has uncovered a load of damning facts about the Ray Rice case, which display a level of missteps unimagined.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation in the 7,000-word-plus story by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg is that the Ravens knew nearly immediately that Ray Rice had punched his wife in the face in the elevator.

According to the report, Ravens director of security Darren Sanders talked to an Atlantic City police officer within hours of the incident. That officer “described in detail to Sanders what he was seeing.”

The litany of mistakes that followed is amazing, but perhaps as incredible as any are the texts Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sent to Rice moments after he was released (the day the video was made public by TMZ).

“Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay,” the first text read.

“When you’re done with football, I’d like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league,” said the second.

Those two actions, at the beginning and end of the process, give an indication of how deeply flawed this process has been.

Again, this story is more than 7,000 words long. There’s plenty to digest. There will be more.

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TNF ratings plummet for Week Three

smashed-tv

Last Friday morning, the NFL thumped its chest over the enormous ratings generated by the Steelers-Ravens Thursday Night Football debut, broadcast jointly by CBS and NFLN.  Roughly 20.8 million viewers tuned in, on average, for the 26-6 win by Baltimore.

This Friday, the release came very late in the afternoon.  And the numbers show a sharp decrease in the total audience.  The Buccaneers-Falcons game averaged only 11.8 million viewers.  It wasn’t a compelling match up, and it turned into a rout.

In the end, the game generated an average audience only seven percent higher than last year’s Chiefs-Eagles game, broadcast by NFL Network only.

It may not be any better next week, when Washington hosts the 0-2 Giants.  Neither team has created much buzz this year, and they may not attract much of an audience in six days.

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Ravens deny Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice in February

John Harbaugh AP

The Ravens are denying a new report that there’s been dissension within their franchise for months over Ray Rice, as ESPN says coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice in February, while the team says that’s not the case.

According to the report from ESPN, Harbaugh was upset enough about the team’s off-field misconduct (including not only Rice’s arrest for assaulting his wife but also the arrests of offensive lineman Jah Reid and receiver Deonte Thompson) that he wanted to cut all three arrested players. The report says, however, that Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome flatly refused. That report further says that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sided with Newsome on keeping Rice.

However, within the report from ESPN is this denial from the Ravens: “John Harbaugh did not want to release Ray Rice until he saw the second video on September 8 for the first time. The video changed everything for all of us.”

Publicly, Harbaugh was supportive of Rice throughout the offseason, right until the decision to cut Rice after the infamous elevator video was published. But the ESPN report suggests otherwise, and paints Harbaugh in a much better light than Newsome and Bisciotti.

This report raises enough questions that Harbaugh, Newsome and Bisciotti should all explain exactly where they stood on Rice before the elevator video was released. And it should come directly from the mouths of those men, and not in a statement released by the team.

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Josh Gordon glad he doesn’t have to sell cars much longer

joshgordon AP

One of today’s winners — other than obfuscation, which is at an all-time high — is Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

As a result of the league’s new substance abuse policy, Gordon’s year-long suspension for an amount of marijuana which wouldn’t have triggered a positive test the new guidelines has been shortened to 10 games.

““I’’m happy that the NFLPA and NFL worked hard to agree on a new Substances of Abuse policy,” Gordon said in a statement distributed by the union. “I’’m very thankful to my union for fighting for a significant reduction in my suspension. I’’m glad I can go to the facility during my suspension. I look forward to going to meetings, working out individually, and learning from my coaches and teammates. I can’t wait until game 11 to get back on the field!””

Getting back to the facility might be the biggest part of the news, as it provides Gordon the structure he clearly needs.

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Cordarrelle Patterson probable for Week Three

Cordarrelle Patterson, E.J. Gaines AP

Vikings playmaking wideout Cordarrelle Patterson appears good to go for Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

Patterson, who landed on the injury report Thursday with a chest ailment, is listed as probable after putting in a full practice Friday. He is one of five Vikings who are probable, including right tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) and right cornerback Xavier Rhodes (groin).

Possessing rare speed and the capability to be used in the backfield, Patterson can create myriad matchup problems for defenses. Patterson’s value to Minnesota has only increased with tailback Adrian Peterson banished from the club after his arrest on a child abuse charge.

Three Vikings starters are listed as questionable: defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), weak-side linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen). All three players were limited on Friday. However, in the case of Greenway, the work was his first in practice all week, so that’s not a bad sign entering the matchup with the 0-2 Saints, who have an outstanding offense.

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Breaking: Donald Trump seems a bit of a blowhard

Donald Trump AP

During an afternoon of absolute transparency and concrete plans by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, we now have another item of positively stunning breaking news.

Donald Trump is drawing attention to himself for almost doing something.

Via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com, the investor/reality TV star/extreme combover magnate claimed on Twitter today that he was responsible for Terry Pegula’s $1.4 billion bid for the Bills.

“The Wilson family should thank me. Pegula overpaid for the @buffalobills because of me!” he wrote.

Trump bragged that he bid over $1 billion in cash for the Bills, though that’s the financial equivalent of players using the Adderall defense for any failed drug test, since it’s hard to establish whether he’s telling the truth or just trying to get on television again.

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Goodell promises transparency and accountability in future, offers little in present

Roger Goodell AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell broke his long silence on Friday afternoon in a press conference that opened with a lengthy statement promising accountability and transparency from the league in the future.

He offered very little of it in the present, however. Goodell consistently fell back on the talking points from his opening statement over the course of the 43 minute press conference that ended with several members of the media still waiting to ask questions.

In place of concrete answers to questions about why the NFL didn’t get the Ray Rice elevator video, why law enforcement in Atlantic City said they were never contacted by the NFL in an attempt to obtain the video and what ambiguities from Rice’s testimony led Goodell to suspend him indefinitely after finally seeing the video that showed exactly what the police report read, Goodell talked about forming new committees and former FBI head Robert Mueller’s investigation into the league’s handling of the matter.

Perhaps most telling was his unwillingness or inability to answer why it was so much more difficult for him to hand down the proper punishment in the Rice case than it has been in cases that didn’t deal with domestic violence. The man who opened the press conference by saying that he believes in accountability showed little of it in response by saying that the personal conduct policy, which Goodell oversees, was not sufficient to handle that particular case.

When Goodell wanted to be firm, he was. A question about possible conflict of interest for Mueller because his law firm WilmerHale has represented the client was met with Goodell saying that he hired Mueller because of Mueller’s credentials and not the firms. The rest was mushier, going back time and again to promises to fix the system with the help of other experts and the aforementioned committees.

That may lead some to wonder whether Goodell is an essential part of the process or if the man who wielded unilateral power as everything went haywire for the league stands in the way of the kind of changes that he said need to be made.

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Dion Jordan gets another suspension, this one for drugs

Dion Jordan AP

Not only did Dion Jordan not get his suspension shortened, it went the other direction.

According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins announced that the second-year outside linebacker has been suspended again.

His previous four-game suspension for violating the PED policy was lifted after two games, but was then superseded by a new four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

He will be eligible to return Oct. 20, the day after they play the Bears.

“I am currently undergoing treatment to address my situation,” Jordan said in a statement provided by the team. “I am working hard to become a better man and to make better choices in the future. I am especially looking forward to returning to the team. I also want to thank my family, Coach [Joe] Philbin and the Miami Dolphins organization for their support.”

The short version is he’ll miss six games this year, instead of four, and is looking more and more like a failed use of the third overall choice in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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UltraViolet isn’t satisfied by Goodell’s press conference

Goodell Getty Images

The group that has been flying “Goodell Must Go” banners over NFL stadiums in recent weeks apparently won’t be changing the last word in the mantra to “Stay.”

UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy group, has asked the league’s sponsors to abandon the NFL until Commissioner Roger Goodell leaves office.

“This press circus did nothing to change Goodell’s long history of inaction on and blatant mishandling of domestic violence in the NFL,” UltraViolet Co-Founder Nita Chaudhary said in a statement.  “The facts are the facts:  57 domestic violence cases saw little to no action under Goodell’s ‘leadership.’  We know what happens when no one is watching:  Goodell ignores domestic violence.  He has made it clear he will not even consider resigning, bringing into question his basic judgement.

“So now, we call on all of the NFL’s sponsors to take a stand against domestic violence by withdrawing their support for the NFL until Goodell is out of office. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and it is clear that Goodell doesn’t yet understand the appalling nature of that simple statistic.”

So, basically, the banners will keep flying.

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Ravens brace for major story about mishandling of Rice case

Ray Rice AP

As the Commissioner was facing the music after 10 days of invisibility, the Ravens were bracing for a potential storm.

Multiple sources tell PFT that the Ravens expect a major investigative story to soon be published regarding the team’s mishandling of the Ray Rice case.

Some claim that the looming report has sparked an “emergency meeting” in the Ravens’ front office.  It’s our understanding that a meeting already had been scheduled, and that the emergence of concern regarding an upcoming report about the situation was coincidental.

Either way, it appears that more will soon be known about the Ravens’ role in whatever did and didn’t happen, and whatever anyone knew or didn’t know about the situation.

Which, depending on the specific contents of the report, could result in even more scrutiny of the team and the league.

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Jamaal Charles questionable for Sunday’s game at Miami

Jamaal Charles AP

Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles (ankle) is questionable for the club’s Sunday’s matchup at the Dolphins, according to the injury report.

The Chiefs’ lead back, Charles was limited for a second straight day with his injury, a high-ankle ailment.

A “questionable” designation means a player is 50-50 to play.

Knile Davis, Cyrus Gray and Joe McKnight are in reserve at tailback for Kansas City. Davis would be in line for the bulk of the carries Sunday if Charles were out.

While Charles appears to have a chance to suit up, the Chiefs will not have star strong safety Eric Berry (ankle) and speedy tailback/receiver De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring). Both have been officially ruled out.

All other Chiefs players on the injury report are probable, including outside linebacker Tamba Hali (ankle/knee), who looks set to play Sunday after a week of limited practices.

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TMZ, Howard Stern Show star in Goodell press conference circus

goodell AP

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s press conference did not allay all the concerns that fans and the general public have about the league’s handling of domestic violence. But the press conference did feature some strange situations.

For starters, a reporter from TMZ, which broke this whole issue open by publishing the now-infamous video of Ray Rice punching his wife in an elevator, asked Goodell why the NFL couldn’t find that video. Goodell didn’t have much of an answer. This was their exchange:

TMZ: “You suspended Ray Rice after our video. Why didn’t you have the curiosity to go to the casino yourself?”

Goodell: “Well, two things.  We suspended Ray Rice originally after seeing the original video that was disclosed in February. When the second video came out last week, that’s when we increased our discipline because that was inconsistent with the information we had. It was new information. One of the things that I said in my statement, and I said repeatedly here, is that is part of what we want to do with all of our experts, outside, internal, is try to figure out, How should we investigate these issues? In the past, we have been almost completely reliant on working with law enforcement and cooperating with them. We do not want to interfere with an investigation. And particularly here when you’re dealing with a casino in New Jersey there are even more restrictions because it’s overseen, I believe, by the attorney general. So we have to be very cautious not to interfere with an investigation, but we’ll evaluate that. Should we do more to get that information? I would have loved to see that tape. Should we do more to get that information in the future?  That’s a question I want these experts to do.”

TMZ: “Mr. Commissioner, we found out by one phone call.  You guys have a whole legal department.  Can you explain that?  We found out by just one phone call.”

Goodell: “I can’t explain how you got the information.”

An even odder spectacle was the sound of a man screaming from off camera while Goodell was at the podium. TV viewers had no idea what was happening but could hear the man yell, “What are you doing?  Don’t take me to an elevator! Please, don’t take me to an elevator!”

That man was later revealed to be Benjy Bronk of The Howard Stern Show.  That portion of the press conference is below:

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Drew Stanton to make second straight start

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals Getty Images

Drew Stanton will make another start for Arizona.

Coach Bruce Arians announced today that Stanton will take the place of Carson Palmer (shoulder) in the starting lineup Sunday vs. San Francisco, according to Darren Urban of AzCardinals.com.

The 34-year-old Palmer is dealing with a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder.

This will be Stanton’s sixth regular season start. He completed 14-of-29 passes for 167 yards in the Cardinals’ 25-14 win at the Giants in Week Two. An eighth-year pro from Michigan State, Stanton has spent the last two seasons with Arizona and the last three seasons in Arians’ offenses both with the Colts and Cardinals.

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Jordan Cameron, Bernard Pierce questionable for Sunday

Jordan Cameron AP

Both the Ravens and Browns have a key offensive contributor listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup in Cleveland.

Ravens tailback Bernard Pierce (thigh) is questionable after putting in a full practice on Friday, while Browns tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) received the same designation after a limited workout today. Cameron missed the Browns’ Week Two win vs. New Orleans with his injury.

Also questionable for Cleveland is outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who was limited with a shoulder ailment Friday.

In other Browns injury news, the club has officially ruled out tailback Ben Tate (knee) for a second straight game. Rookie Terrance West will start in his place.

For the Ravens, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is doubtful. However, quarterback Joe Flacco (illness) and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (concussion) are probable.

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