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Krykslants: 28 TDs Unconverted Over the Past Two Weeks, and aren’t ya Loving’ It?



Insight, hindsight and foresight as we segue from Week 11 to Week 12 in NFL action:


For starters: perspective on the big news.

When NFL owners voted last year to make the touchdown conversion a more competitive play, they probably didn’t envision how well they’d succeed.

Or how many lines of other dominoes would start spilling as a result.

Lengthening the distance of extra-point kicks by 13 yards, from 20 to 33, has not only added uncertainty to a scoring play that had been boringly automatic for decades, but it has got inside the heads of those kickers.

That, in turn, has shaken confidence some head coaches have in their previously reliable kickers, which is compelling those coaches to go for two-point conversions more often.

All of which has improved the game, as we have seen over the past crazy two weeks.

It’s to the point where conversion kicks are being missed left and right — and off the uprights too. Games have been won and lost on those misses, and they’re one reason we’re seeing more uncommon scores, such as Buffalo’s 16-12 win at Cincinnati.

After the rule’s passage last season, some kickers immediately began to out-think themselves, asking for the ball on conversion kicks to be snapped and placed either left or right of dead centre, to a spot they hoped would give them an incrementally better chance of making it. Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter, for example, at first attempted his extra points at the start of last season from left of centre. After missing a few, he moved them right. Others, too, began missing conversions more often than even field goals from the same distance.

Only nine kickers are still perfect on extra points, when in years past nearly all would be perfect after Week 11. Twelve kickers have missed multiple times. Minnesota’s Blair Walsh even lost his job last week after missing his fourth.

In turn, some coaches are now starting to out-think themselves too, going for two more often, what with the single-point kick no longer automatic.

And you know what? It’s all beautiful. Games are more interesting.

Kickers missed 12 extra points on Sunday — the most in any week since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. Throw in last week’s six misses and that’s 18 flubbed extra points over two weeks.

In comparison, over the last two years of shorter extra points — 2013 and 2014 — kickers missed only 13 of 2,497 singletons.

The odds of making a two-point conversion off a scrimmage play (snapped from the two-yard line) traditionally are slightly over 50%. But over the past two weeks NFL coaches went for two 15 times — unheard of. Only five were successful, or 33%. Out-thinking themselves again maybe?

In all, 28 touchdowns have been unconverted over the past two weeks — an inconceivable statistic before 2015.

Aren’t ya just lovin’ it?


It happened again, so it probably will happen again.

1. Drew Brees of New Orleans leads NFL passers with a 71.0 completion percentage. That’s nearly on pace to break the NFL’s season completion percentage record — held by the 16th-year pro himself, in 2011, with 71.2%. Second place on that historical list? A tie between Brees (2009) and Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson (1982) with 70.6%. So the 37-year-old Brees is well within range. So is one other player, 39-year-old Tom Brady, at 70.4%.

2. Tampa Bay has it backward, but in a good way, really. The Bucs are 4-1 on the road this season, and 1-4 at home. Over the past two years they’re 7-6 on the road. For second-year QB Jameis Winston, that’s an encouraging foundation on which to build. Winning consistently on the road often is one of the last pieces to fall into place for winning quarterbacks and rebuilding teams alike.

3. The Rams have outscored foes 50-34 in the first quarter, but been outscored 153-99 over the last three quarters, including 70-46 in the fourth, when the 4-6 Rams have coughed up a few games.


Has quarterback Tyrod Taylor done enough this season to convince the Buffalo Bills not to buy him out at season’s end?

Probably not, at least so far.

You’ll recall the Bills have the option, after Week 17, to give Taylor a lump-sum payment of $9 million to scorch the remaining $92 million and five years on the team-friendly contract extension he signed in August.

This week’s NFL stats report does not provide much encouragement for Taylor. The Bills rank dead last in passing offence, with just 186 yards per game.

There are various ways to look at this.

One, is that if the Bills run it so dang well, then play-action passing should afford Taylor all kinds of time to find targets and to throw — as defensive coordinators concentrate on stopping the run. And, indeed, at least one analytics website has reportedly calculated that Taylor has had more time to throw than any other passer in the league.

Another way to look at it is that Taylor doesn’t exactly have Jerry Rice and John Taylor to throw to. The Bills’ top wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, played less than a week — and ineffectively to boot on a sore, surgically repaired foot — before going on IR.

Otherwise, Robert Woods at times is a capable possession receiver, trackster Marquis Goodwin is good for little more than a handful of deep catches a year, recently signed Percy Harvin is shaking off the rust, and yeah.

Overall, Taylor’s passing numbers are down a couple pegs from his surprisingly good debut starting season. He’s tied for 24th in the NFL with just 10 touchdown passes in 10 games, and he ranks 22nd in passer rating (86.2, down from 99.4 last year), 24th in completion percentage (61.4, down from 63.7) and 29th in yards per attempt (6.56, down from 7.99).

More than his numbers, Taylor hasn’t improved much as a pocket passer and continues to be disturbingly ineffective when having to pass his team to first downs, to help the Bills hold a late lead, or mount a successful late-game comeback. See the Miami and Seattle losses.

The good news is that Taylor, if anything, is even more dangerous as a runner, has stayed healthy so far, and has been remarkably careful with the football, throwing only four interceptions and not losing one fumble.

Does it all add up to retention? Unless he and the Bills catch fire, finish red hot and earn the club’s first playoff berth since 1999, it’s not looking like it.

HERO: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Dolphins

Completed his final 11 throws over two drives in the last six minutes to turn a 10-0 deficit at Los Angeles into a dramatic 14-10 victory. Tannehill threw the winning TD pass with 36 seconds remaining. It was his 12th career fourth-quarter comeback. During Miami’s current five-game win streak, Tannehill has completed 68% of his throws for six TDs and one interception.

ZERO: Mike Nugent, PK, Bengals

He clanked both of his extra-point attempts off the right upright, no good, in Sunday’s 16-12 loss to Buffalo.

Had Nugent made even one of the two XPs, then in the game’s final minute — when the Bengals had driven into Bills territory — Nugent could have come on to attempt a game-tying field goal. Had Nugent made both extra points earlier, he could have attempted a game-winning field goal.

As it was, Nugent stayed on the sideline. Four points down, Andy Dalton and the offence had to score a touchdown for the Bengals to win. They did not.

STOCK UP: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks

Aided by a resurgent rushing attack and improved O-line play, the fifth-year Wilson is back to performing his backfield escape acts and passing wizardry. He’s thrown for 622 yards in Seattle’s past two wins, good for four touchdowns and no interceptions. Wilson even caught a TD pass Sunday from receiver Doug Baldwin on a trick play.

STOCK DOWN: Arizona Cardinals

It’s not just QB Carson Palmer, although he’s antsy in the pocket again at just a hint of pressure. The Cardinals special teams are a hot mess and have cost the team wins, the overly aggressive defence keeps getting burned, and something’s askew on offence besides Palmer. At 4-5-1, the Cards might have to win out to steal an NFC wild-card berth.


Shining more light on a strategic decision

Believe it or not, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin now might be the most aggressive head coach in the league.

Last week he went for two after all four touchdowns against Dallas. Never mind that the Steelers missed all four. This is a good trend for the league, when one of the most conservative franchises starts blowing on the dice like this.

Remember, Tomlin’s the guy who three years ago most loudly derided the infiltration of the read-option run into NFL quarterbacking.

“I think the read-option is the flavour of the month,” Tomlin snickered in 2013. “We’ll see whether it’s the flavour of the year.”

He was right, in that running quarterbacks did not take over league, even if the read-option still is employed quite successfully by some teams — such as Carolina, Seattle and Buffalo — as an available, dangerous element in the run game.

Tomlin is now coaching like he’s willing to push the boundary of accepted norms, in many directions. It’s refreshing.

For instance on Sunday in Cleveland, with the Steelers up 6-0 and 10 seconds left in the half, they had the ball first-and-goal at the Browns’ three-yard line. Tomlin seemed obsessed about scoring a touchdown before halftime.

After Ben Roethlisberger threw incomplete, 0:05 remained on the game clock. In years past, Tomlin right there sends the field-goal unit onto the field.

Not Sunday. Tomlin took the huge chance by going for another scrimmage play, to get that touchdown. Roethlisberger took too much time in the pocket, though, then threw incomplete in the end zone to Antonio Brown, with 0:00 left.

Lucky for Tomlin and the Steelers, Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun was penalized for defensive holding. So Pittsburgh was awarded an untimed down just outside the Cleveland one.

Again Tomlin went for it, and again Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Brown, on a slant left. Only, again, a Browns cornerback (this time Joe Haden) was flagged (this time for interference).

Pittsburgh was awarded a second untimed down, this time from inside the one. LeVeon Bell then took a Roethlisberger handoff and bulled into the end zone for a half-ending touchdown.

Not done yet pushing the envelope, Tomlin went for two, and Roethlisberger hit tight end David Johnson in the end zone to get it.

Halftime score I: Pittsburgh 14, Cleveland 0.

Halftime score II: Tomlin 4, Old-School Conservatism 0.


Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was hospitalized Monday with chest pains, the team said.

“After returning home from Minnesota … Arians was experiencing discomfort and not feeling well during the night,” the team said in a statement, per “His wife took him to a local hospital to be evaluated. All tests conducted so far have come back favourably.

“He remains in the hospital for continued evaluation.”

The team’s website said Arians while in hospital was able to communicate with players. Safety Tyrann Mathieu texted that the coach assured him he’ll be fine.

SUSPENSIONS: The NFL on Monday suspended Chicago LB Jerrell Freeman for four games with out pay, for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs. He’s the second Bears player in a week to be suspended for that reason. WR Alshon Jeffery was the first.

Meantime reports said New England DT Alan Branch has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, for repeatedly testing positive for marijuana. Branch has been a key cog up front in New England’s run defence.

GREEN, BERNARD UPDATES: Cincinnati WR A.J. Green did not tear his hamstring Sunday against Buffalo, but rather only strained it, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said in backtracking his report of a day earlier. Green does not require surgery after all, Rapoport said, and could return in a few weeks.

Meantime, hours after that game Tom Pelissero of USA Today reported that Bengals RB Giovani Bernard is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered late in the game against the Bills.

EXTRA POINTS: The Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago QB Jay Cutler suffered a shoulder injury Sunday that could sideline him for the rest of the season. The team did not immediately respond to the report … Seattle coach Pete Carroll said five-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas suffered a first-degree hamstring strain … Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said it is unknown when star linebacker Luke Kuechly might return from his second concussion in two years.


“In all my years, over 30 years playing in and studying this league, I have never seen a young quarterback come in and play the way Dak Prescott is playing. I’ve never seen it. This is one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever seen.”

— Merril Hoge, former Steelers and Bears RB, and current ESPN analyst.



“Well that was awesome. Shout out to my boy @LWillson_82 for crushing rehab and getting back for us. What a savage.”

— Jimmy Graham (@TheJimmyGraham), Seahawks TE, on the fast recovery by fellow Seattle TE and Canadian Luke Willson. More on that below.


My Top 20 active and available QBs, after Sunday games. (Last week’s rankings in brackets.)

1. Tom Brady, New England (1)

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (2)

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans (3)

4. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (4)

5. Derek Carr, Oakland (5)

6. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (6)

7. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (8)

8. Phil Rivers, San Diego (7)

9. Matt Stafford, Detroit (9)

10. Cam Newton, Carolina (10)

11. Eli Manning, NY Giants (11)

12. Russell Wilson, Seattle (12)

13. Dak Prescott, Dallas (14)

14. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (13)

15. Carson Palmer, Arizona (15)

16. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia (16)

17. Sam Bradford, Minnesota (17)

18. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee (20)

19. Joe Flacco, Baltimore (19)

20. Alex Smith, Kansas City (18)


Eye on Canadian-connected NFLers

Seattle TE Luke Willson of LaSalle, Ont., returned to play Sunday — just four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his hyper-extended left knee. He caught one pass from Russell Wilson for 12 yards. “What a blast being back out there today!!!” Will son tweeted. “Great team win!! #gohawks #letswork”


1. Dallas had never defeated Baltimore before Sunday.

2. The Giants have won five straight for the first time since 2010.

3. Matt Stafford has now QB’ed the most games (103) in Lions history.

4. Antonio Brown has reached 600 catches in 96 games, fastest in NFL history.

5. Buffalo has just six giveaways, tied for fewest after 10 games in NFL history.


The greatest two picks by one team in the first round of perhaps any pro sports league’s draft took place 52 years ago this week. On Nov. 28, 1964 the Chicago Bears selected a pair of icons: eventual Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus from the University of Illinois (third overall) and eventual Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers from the University of Kansas (fourth overall).


Quick thoughts on Week 12 games (all on Sunday unless noted)

  • Vikings at Lions, Thursday, 12:30 ET: Detroit has much to be thankful for, having trailed in every fourth quarter.
  • Redskins at Cowboys, Thursday 3:30 ET: Dallas goes for an NFL-record nine straight games with 400+ yards.
  • Steelers at Colts, Thursday 8:30 ET: America’s Thanksgiving tripleheader ends with this probable shootout.
  • Cardinals at Falcons, 1 ET: Whichever QB performs better against all those blitzes, wins.
  • Bengals at Ravens, 1 ET: Hard to see the injury-depleted Bengals O moving much against Baltimore’s D.
  • Jaguars at Bills, 1 ET: Hey, Jacksonville beat Buffalo last year and is due to win. Don’t discount it.
  • Titans at Bears, 1 ET: The wave of the future (Mariota) vs. the leftover shoreline suds (Cutler).
  • Giants at Browns, 1 ET: Looks like six W’s in a row for New York.
  • Chargers at Texans, 1 ET: Phil Rivers shows the QB-desperate locals how a real gunslinger performs.
  • 49ers at Dolphins, 1 ET: The NFL’s worst run D against Miami’s 18-wheeler, Jay Ajayi. Rrrrright.
  • Rams at Saints, 1 ET: Maybe Jared Goff can impress Jeff Fisher with another shining, no-delays-of-game effort.
  • Seahawks at Buccaneers, 4:05 ET: Seattle’s rolling on both sides of the ball now. Watch out.
  • Patriots at Jets, 4:25 ET: Pats need this win to make New Yorkers hate them even more.
  • Panthers at Raiders, 4:25 ET: Second of three west-coast trips in a five-week span for Carolina. Ugh.
  • Chiefs at Broncos, 8:30 ET: Moved to prime time. Loser likely falls to third place in tough AFC West.
  • Packers at Eagles, Monday, 8:30 ET: Sick of seeing these struggling teams in prime time. Go away.
  • BYES: None.


Two teams that won’t win this week

Kinda the opposite of a suicide pool. I can pick a team only once all season, so each of 32 teams over the NFL schedule’s final 16 weeks. Last week’s picks: Philadelphia (which lost at Seattle) and Baltimore (which lost at Dallas). This week’s picks: Minnesota (at Detroit) and Washington (at Dallas).

Season record: 15-5 (.750).


This week’s winder-upper

A final reminder that it’s U.S. Thanksgiving on Thursday. That means a tripleheader of NFL action, as usual. Plus some college games, no doubt.

You don’t look well. Winter has arrived. Must have left your parka undone when you were shoveling snow, right? Sickness coming on.

You might have to stay home Thursday to recover. The remedy: hot tea and honey, with clicker in hand.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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