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Adrian Peterson’s debut, and Bucs aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 15, 2017 – 7:15 pm

The plan started on a private plane, sent by the Cardinals Tuesday to pick up Adrian Peterson in New Orleans and bring him back to Arizona. Running backs coach Freddie Kitchens was on board, so that the return trip to Arizona could be spent on a crash course about the Cardinals’ offense.

“It sounded like Chinese,” Peterson said Sunday, after that five-day tutorial turned into a 134-yard rushing debut.

Peterson said Kitchens walked him through what he needed to learn, calling him at home just to go over things. By the time Peterson got to Sunday, he felt prepared, and he played that way.

Kitchens downplayed his role, saying only that he helped get Peterson in the building. And there is little question Peterson, motivated as he was to do well, had the talent if he knew what was called.

“It was the terminology of the plays,” wide receiver/Peterson landlord Larry Fitzgerald said. “You don’t tell a great back where to run.”

Fitz is going to gush about Peterson. They are friends. But Peterson deserves the praise. Not just for his production, but for the intangible vibe that surrounded this team right about the time Peterson and Kitchens were flying back from Louisiana.

“I wish he’d have been here 11 years from the beginning,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d have a Super Bowl ring already. But having him here, his leadership, his demeanor in the huddle, I think it’s reinvigorating everybody.”

— I can’t lie. I did not expect Peterson to make that kind of impact. I thought the Cards would be better. Not that much better. But when he ripped off two eight-yard runs on his first two carries, I quickly reconsidered.

— Chandler Jones got his sixth sack in six games and got a couple tackles for loss. That doesn’t do his game justice, especially early. He’s had a very good season.

— Still, you want to see the defense finish better. It’ll be interesting to see if Tramon Williams gets more playing time at cornerback.

— And not because of Patrick Peterson’s quad problem. If P2 is down, the Cards will feel it, although Peterson insisted he will be ready to play against the Rams next week. That was a big part of the fourth-quarter problems Sunday. No Patrick. Adrian isn’t the only necessary Peterson.

— The offensive line was better. It wasn’t perfect, but the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone, along with Earl Watford taking over at right guard clearly made a difference. There was a lot of emotion Sunday with Adrian Peterson and the crowd and that adrenaline helps. But if this group can stay healthy and together – that was the fifth different offensive line in six games – the Cards should be OK.

— Fitzgerald said it was kicker Phil Dawson who told him to waste some time on the onside kick recovery at the end, to make sure the clock ticked under the two-minute mark (and stoppage at the two-minute warning) so the Cards could kneel three times and be done. “That was Phil all the way,” Fitz said.

— Ryan Fitzpatrick likes putting a scare into Bruce Arians. First it was 2013 in Tennessee, then Sunday.

— Arians took the blame for Palmer’s interception, saying he insisted on throwing it deep there to go for the throat. But Arians said he needs to stay greedy. “There’s no lead big enough in the National Football League,” Arians said.

— Palmer is expecting both David Johnson and T.J. Logan to come off injured reserve, apparently, since he mentioned both running backs playing with Peterson later this season.

“I can’t help but think what B.A. will come up with when we get T.J. Logan back and Dave back,” Palmer said. “I can’t wait to see that.”

— That would be interesting. Just like the Cards were Sunday. Tomorrow, a flight to London.


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David Johnson return not before Thanksgiving

Posted by Darren Urban on October 12, 2017 – 11:01 am

Now that Adrian Peterson has arrived, it’s fair to wonder about when — and if — David Johnson will be more than just a locker room-mate at running back. Johnson, on injured reserve with his surgically repaired left wrist, said rehab is “going great.”

“Just got my cast, it’s going good, wrist is feeling great,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Johnson wouldn’t put a timetable on his comeback. “Wait and see how it heals,” he said.

Coach Bruce Arians said on his SiriusXM NFL radio appearance Wednesday night that the “earliest” Johnson would return would be Thanksgiving. That weekend, the Cardinals host the Jaguars, and there would be six games left in the season. There are still five games in between then and now. Arians had previously put Johnson’s return sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so his comment this week remains in line with that.

Johnson said it was a “humbling moment” to see Peterson come in the locker room. “It’s going to be cool to pick his brain and learn from it.” (Johnson, however, was disappointed Chris Johnson was released, calling Johnson his mentor.)

“The opportunities I’ve had to talk to him were brief,” Peterson said of his relationship with David Johnson. “He came to Minnesota, and I just had to congratulate him on the things that he had accomplished so far and things like that. He was just like, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to be like you. You’re one of the guys that have paved the way.’ So for me, I sit back and kind of just marvel and smile when I hear young guys like that say how I influenced them and their play and their work ethic.”


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That Philly feeling, Friday before the Eagles

Posted by Darren Urban on October 6, 2017 – 3:36 pm

The Cardinals are en route to Philly right now, the fifth trip there since 2008, and the previous four have had some memorable moments. The 2008 game was the ugly Thanksgiving night beatdown, with the Cardinals losing by four touchdowns yet coming out of it not afraid at all of the Eagles (which showed a couple months later when they beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship.) The 2011 game was an improbable 21-17 win with John Skelton throwing a pair of perfect passes on the game-winning drive, one on a wheel route to the Hyphen, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and then a bomb to Fitz. In 2013, Bruce Arians’ first year, the Cards lost 24-21 when a late pick by Patrick Peterson was wiped out by a flag on Tyrann Mathieu, a penalty the Cards weren’t thrilled was called.

But it was the last trip that encapsulated so much with the Cardinals, especially in relation to where they are now. It was a 40-17 domination by the Cardinals on “Sunday Night Football.” The Cardinals clinched the NFC West title that night, an accomplishment that seems so much longer ago than 22 months. It was David Johnson’s coming-out party, with his Beastmode-like run and his career-best 187 yards rushing. And it was Mathieu’s devastating second ACL tear, that took all the wind from the excitement of the night and might’ve cost the Cardinals a chance at the Super Bowl.

The Cards have been a .500 team since then. Mathieu is still trying to find his groove. Johnson is hurt and cannot help. Chasing a division title is still a goal, but there is much to be fixed for that to be a topic.

— The Cardinals not only will have the early start Sunday – 10 a.m. Arizona time – but there might be a little rain. Bruce Arians doesn’t care. “They are all excuses,” the coach said in his opening statement Friday. It’ll be the first game the Cards will have played outside this season.

— After two rough games, right tackle Jared Veldheer was the highest-graded offensive lineman from the San Francisco game and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said he was “proud” of Veldheer. “The biggest thing for him is gaining confidence but I was pleased,” Goodwin said.

— Arians, who was hired as Temple’s head coach at age 30 and left the job in part because it literally was making him physically sick, was asked if in-his-30s Arians would have imagined himself still coaching now (Arians turned 65 earlier this week).

“I would hope so, if I wasn’t dead,” Arians said. “That job down there killed me.”

— Another Philly guy is Earl Watford, who just signed this week and now could be in the starting lineup at guard Sunday. It looked like Watford’s days as a Cardinal were over, having played out his contract and with both sides ready to start fresh. But here we are.

“A lot of people would think that, but it’s just another opportunity,” Watford said. “I’m glad to be back here. To be familiar with people, playbook, coaches, I’m excited to be here.”

— Linebacker Haason Reddick now finds himself in the outside linebackers meeting room, trying to cram for a new role after the loss of Markus Golden. I’m very curious to see the snap spilt between he and Kareem Martin.

— Reddick, who is technically from New Jersey but lived just five miles from Philly and went to school there at Temple, said his call for the best cheesesteak comes from Max’s and he’s going to try and get some teammates to join him there.

As for the best way to eat a cheesesteak, it’s American cheese for Reddick. “I don’t do Cheese Whiz.”

“Cheese Whiz is a tourist attraction,” Reddick said. “Anyone who is really from Philly, I’ve never seen them put Cheese Whiz on their cheesesteak. I think that’s a little bizarre.”

(To be fair, it looks like an ongoing debate.)

— Carson Palmer has taken a lot of hits – 43, officially, in four games. “Hey, I don’t want to see him get hit,” Goodwin said. “Mr. Bidwill is paying that guy a lot of money.”

Part of that is the Cards’ lack of run game. Palmer is passing so much he’s inevitably going to be hit more, just like he’s on pace to obliterate his personal highs in attempts, completions and yards. But that doesn’t absolve the pass protection – or the struggles therein. Goodwin said he woke up early last week and the protection issues popped into his mind so quickly he just got up and came to the office. It was 4:30 a.m.

“That’s my job,” Goodwin said. “I embrace the pressure though. It’ll never break me.”

— Finally, there’s the case of Fitz the Philly killer. He had a nondescript three catches for 43 yards in that 2015 blowout of the Eagles – and even with that game averaged in, he’s still averaged (including the NFC Championship game) more than six catches, 104 yards and more than a touchdown per game against the Eagles all-time.

“He’s the same guy all the time,” Eagles cornerback Malcolm Jenkins told ESPN.

The Cards wouldn’t mind some of that same ol’ Fitz Sunday.


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A banged-up OL, and Friday before the Niners

Posted by Darren Urban on September 29, 2017 – 4:03 pm

Well, this is where the Cardinals are. In a week in which Friday finally felt like the day where the offensive line wouldn’t be the major topic, it became the major topic. It’s not so much that Mike Iupati is likely headed for IR – he hadn’t been playing – but Alex Boone is also missing time and Bruce Arians was anything but clear about D.J. Humphries’ availability.

I mean, even OC/OL coach Harold Goodwin is working on the gallows humor. “I’m planning on suiting up sooner or later,” he said.

It’s not like the game is going to be canceled. If Humphries is in there, fine, but if he can’t go, it’s probable we’ll see rookie Will Holden in the lineup, with he and John Wetzel in some combo of guard/tackle on the left side. Not ideal, and that’s even if the right side of Evan Boehm and Jared Veldheer were playing well, which has not happened of late.

Carson Palmer played well last week. The Cards moved the ball. Offensively, with John Brown back to at least play a little, the Cards have some guys who can help gain yards. But the line has to keep Palmer upright. It’s not unfair to wonder how that can happen.

“As you saw, because (the media) was writing earlier in the season Carson doesn’t have it anymore, that’s not the issue,” Goodwin said. “As long as he is protected, the ball is going to come out, it’s going to go to the right place and we’re going to score points. If he’s not protected, we’re going to struggle.”

— Bruce Arians was asked, now that the Cards have been through a couple of games, when the offense most misses the injured David Johnson.

“Every play,” Arians said. “Either fake it to him hand it to him or throw it to him.”

Sounds about right.

— I am curious to see how Andre Ellington is deployed. Brown may be back and I expect J.J. Nelson to play, but both probably won’t be their explosive selves. Ellington is really that only guy right now.

— Having Larry Fitzgerald go deep for a couple of long passes Monday night was some excellent nostalgia. How much it can happen, realistically, is another story. It’s not so much Fitz can’t make the catch in traffic. You still trust him in jump ball situations. But Fitz’s ability to get down the field fast to be in position to try for one isn’t what it was, and with the problems with protection, can the Cards keep Palmer up long enough to get Fitz where he needs to be?

— Deone Bucannon won’t be playing all the time, not yet, but this is where we get to see how the Cardinals want to deploy him with Haason Reddick and Karlos Dansby. I want to see the package – assuming there is one – that has both Bucannon and Reddick. DC James Bettcher said you don’t want to have too many specific packages, because it hampers the other nine or 10 players who would be on the field.

— Two numbers that, to me, are poison to the Cardinals right now: Allowing opponents to score TDs on 87 percent of red-zone visits, and averaging 2.8 yards per carry rushing the ball. One on each side of the ball. They have to change.

— Don’t forget Kurt Warner’s Hall of Fame bust will be on display at University of Phoenix Stadium Saturday from 12-4 p.m. if you want to get a picture. Warner will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of Sunday’s game.

— Holden proposed to his girlfriend on the 50-yard line after the Monday night game.

“Football has been a big part of my life and a big part of her life now,” Holden said. “She’s been with me since day one at Vanderbilt. I felt like that was a special place.”

— See you Sunday. The Cardinals want to at least be .500 after the first quarter of the season. Even though the 49ers are 0-3, that’s not a lock.


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Cardinals will indeed see embattled Elliott

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2017 – 2:56 pm

Considering a few weeks ago, it was the Cowboys, not the Cardinals, who were going to be missing their star running back for the teams’ “Monday Night Football” matchup, things have changed considerably. David Johnson, of course, is out after wrist surgery. Ezekiel Elliott, who was once expected to be suspended at this point, will play as his case winds through the courts.

Elliott gained only eight yards rushing last week on nine carries, a combination of Denver’s defense and the hole the Cowboys found themselves within. Elliott shrugged off the idea the Broncos might have found the blueprint of how to slow the Dallas offense.

“Every week people stack the box,” Elliott told Dallas reporters. “It’s not something we’ve seen for the first time.”

Elliott has had a doubly rough week. Already dealing with the suspension hanging over his head and then getting stuffed by the Broncos, Elliott was then seen at the end of the game stopping completely after a Dak Prescott interception, making no effort to even try to get to a tackle.

(“I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape,” he said. “I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.” Elliott added, “I wasn’t myself.”)

The Cardinals have done a decent job against the run in their first two games. The Lions gained only 82 yards on the ground and the Colts 76. But neither team has the rushing potential of the Cowboys, with Elliott and one of the best offensive lines in the league. Holding him to less than 10 yards would be great — but unrealistic. Containing him somewhat is the goal, trying to mitigate whatever advantage an Elliott-minus-David-Johnson equation creates.


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Keim: Disappointing, frustrating but Cards won

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2017 – 8:21 am

Not surprisingly, General Manager Steve Keim had his issues with what he saw from the Cardinals Sunday in Indy. Things the Cards have talked about fixing — red-zone offense, cleaning up mental mistakes, fewer turnovers — have yet to be fixed.

“It’s frustrating while game is going on and next day it’s a little disappointing watching tape,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, “but at the end of the day … I don’t remember how we won the games. I just remember we won.”

— Quarterback Carson Palmer, like many on offense, was “up and down,” Keim said. The interception Palmer threw was “unacceptable,” Keim said, although that was easy to see. (Palmer has thrown a few INTs like that in his Arizona years, when the safety is just waiting there over the top. The one at the end of the Pittsburgh game in 2015 when the Cards had a chance to win that game stands out in my head.) But Keim said Palmer also made a couple of throws not every QB can make.

— I am surprised I didn’t hear about this on Twitter, because usually someone points this stuff out, but apparently backup QB Drew Stanton starting throwing on the sideline at some point during the game and Keim was asked if there was any thought of Stanton replacing Palmer. Keim said Bruce Arians hadn’t said anything to him, and that there have been multiple times when Stanton will throw a bit just to stay loose on a sideline at games.

— Running back Chris Johnson played well, Keim said, and then the GM underscored one of the reasons Johnson was likely released going into the regular season. “He showed a burst I thought quite frankly he was missing in the preseason,” Keim said,

— Keim praised Chandler Jones, who had a handful of tackles, drew a couple of holding penalties and had two sacks. Rookie safety Budda Baker also caught Keim’s eye, making an excellent tackle as gunner on a 55-yard Andy Lee punt to make it a net of 54 yards, and also making a nice tackle of a receiver short of the sticks on a third down. He was also happy with the play of new guard Alex Boone, other than “one or two snaps.”

— The pressure off the edge is good, Keim said, but the Cardinals need to do a better job getting an interior rush and helping collapse the middle. (This was an area of concern after Calais Campbell left. Robert Nkemdiche did play in his first game Sunday, getting 19 snaps, but he did not record a stat.)

— The miss by kicker Phil Dawson was a surprise, as was the one last week. Keim does think the special teams are much better, from Lee to the coverage units. Dawson can’t miss kicks like that, Keim acknowledged, but “he is the kind of guy I have a lot of faith in.”

— J.J. Nelson is still working on things, like getting off press coverage and being more consistent catching the football. But with his speed and ability to get deep, it’s “something we direly need in this offense.”

— The Cardinals flew out on Saturday instead of Friday despite the 10 a.m. Arizona start in Sunday. Usually in such situations, they leave Friday. Keim said a couple of things went into the decision, including the extra-long camp and how much time away from family everyone has had. But he added that it shouldn’t matter. “We have to be ready to play,” Keim said.

— Keim said he talked to David Johnson after the running back had surgery. Told Johnson he can’t get caught up in all the speculation of how much time he will miss. “Nobody can froecasat how much time, especially when you are such a genetic freak like him,” Keim said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if David heals faster than most.”


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With Gresham, five offensive starters out for Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 8:30 am

Bruce Arians was just talking, going into the first game of the season, how the inactive list was going to have so many healthy scratches. That isn’t the issue anymore, unfortunately for the Cardinals. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn’t practice all week after getting bodyslammed last week late in the game and hurting his ribs, won’t play. That means five offensive starters from the opener won’t play this week, including the now-on-IR running back David Johnson.

A quick look at the replacements in the lineup goes like this: Johnson will be replaced by Kerwynn Williams at running back. Mike Iupati will be replaced by Alex Boone at left guard. D.J. Humphries will be replaced by John Wetzel at left tackle. John Brown will be replaced by Jaron Brown at wide receiver. Gresham will be replaced by Ifeanyi Momah at tight end.

The full inactive list for the game against the Colts:

— G Mike Iupati (triceps)

— WR John Brown (quad)

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Deone Bucannon (ankle)

— TE Jermaine Gresham (ribs)

On a good note, Johnson had successful wrist surgery, so step one of his process to come back has begun.


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David Johnson’s Christmas return?

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2017 – 5:51 pm

David Johnson went on injured reserve today. Teams can bring back two players total from IR in a season. They don’t have to be designated ahead of time. Johnson is an obvious candidate, and with an 8-to-12-week wrist injury and the need to stay on IR at least eight weeks before being eligible to return, that means the earliest, best-case scenario for Johnson would be a comeback on Tuesday, Nov. 7. That happens to be the week the Cards host the Seahawks on Thursday night, Nov. 9. It was always unlikely Johnson would make that initial date.

But Tuesday night, during his weekly interview on Sirius XM NFL radio, Arians said it could be much later.

“Hopefully, as miraculous as he came back from that knee injury last year, I’m hoping we can possibly get him back by Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Arians said.

That’s a show stopper.

Thanksgiving is one thing. But the Cardinals play the next-to-last game of the regular season on Christmas Eve, at home against the Giants. Even if we don’t get technical on Arians and assume he means Christmas week, that would only leave two regular-season games he could play. If not, it’s one game, the finale at Seattle. That would seem to make an assumption the Cardinals are in or have a chance to be in the postseason. Because bringing Johnson back for at most two games doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It would put also Johnson’s timetable to return at 14 weeks (Thanksgiving would be 10 weeks), which is on the far other side of 8-to-12 weeks. And it shows just how serious this injury is to the all-pro running back.

 


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(Football) life without David Johnson

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2017 – 3:25 pm

So the news wasn’t good, with David Johnson (likely) sidelined for many weeks and many games because of a dislocated wrist. Bottom line, this isn’t replacing a guy who by default ended up at the top of the running-back-by-committee depth chart. This is arguably the best running back in the league. He comes out of the lineup, it makes a difference.

The Cardinals have to find a way to run the ball going forward. That will be some combination of Andre Ellington and Kerwynn Williams, I’m thinking. Reports that the Cards are signing D.J. Foster from the Patriots practice squad makes sense; Foster could in theory become a punt returner. The Patriots tried him a little bit there in preseason (Foster did not return kicks or punts at Arizona State.) If Williams is playing a lot of running back, I’m not sure he’ll stay with such a big return role. J.J. Nelson is an option back there, or Brittan Golden. (The punt return job can’t help but not be settled, right? It’s one thing or another.) Elijhaa Penny would be an option as a big back, although Sunday, after Johnson got hurt, Williams was still used inside on a couple of up-the-gut short-yardage plays.

The offense could look a lot more like the 2013/2014 model, before Johnson was drafted and before Chris Johnson’s resurgent 2015 season. The Cardinals didn’t run as effectively as they wanted to those seasons, but they made it work and they won games. Now, it’s about making whatever you can work, and hope Johnson can return late in the season for a playoff push the Cards still hope they can develop.


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Keim: Bad day in Detroit, no injury updates

Posted by Darren Urban on September 11, 2017 – 8:20 am

Never fun for the General Manager to do his weekly radio appearance after a bad loss like Sunday’s in Detroit, but there was Steve Keim on the “Doug and Wolf” show Monday morning, reiterating a lot of what we already knew: Carson Palmer played poorly, as did the team. He was actually OK with the defense, putting most of the end-game Lions scores on short fields and stamina after the offense had its bad game.

He had no update on the injuries to running back David Johnson (wrist) or left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee). Both are getting MRIs today. He said Humphries walked out of the stadium Sunday night so “who knows?” He said he couldn’t base anything coming off the information they had last night, and it would be “hard to forecast” if either had any shot at playing Sunday in Indianapolis. Various reports don’t have great news in that regard for either player. Hopefully Bruce Arians will have more when he talks at 12:15 today.

UPDATE: The news on Johnson was not good.

— Keim said the Cards came in with goals this season, four of which being better in the red zone, eliminate turnovers, improve special teams, and execute better by playing smarter. Keim thought the special teams was OK — although he knows Phil Dawson can’t miss a field goal — the Cards failed in those other areas.

“You can’t win like that,” Keim said. “Every time we had a chance to accelerate momentum, we shot ourselves in the foot.”

— Keim said when watching the film, he is “trying to be real” and wanting to be honest not only with himself but when talking to Arians and team president Michael Bidwill. Honestly, he said, a lot of things were disappointing. (Which may be an understatement in itself.)

— Palmer has to play better. “I don’t think it’s any secret Carson was off,” he said. Keim said Palmer usually bounces back after a game like that. Keim thought Palmer looked antsy in the pocket (I’d concur) and, like I mentioned yesterday, Keim brought up those few out routes that should have been completed on the sideline. Those are mechanical issues that can be fixed, Keim added, but need to be completed. Palmer also made some poor decisions.

— The running game wasn’t much better. Backup left tackle John Wetzel “had his struggles.” While the offensive line has to be better, Keim noted that Palmer also held the ball too long at times and reiterated that the passing game/pressure on Palmer, is subject to the entire offense executing. “They all have to work in unison together.”

— Keim liked what Haason Reddick flashed but also talked about the pressure and missed sacks, because Reddick had one. Chandler Jones could’ve had four, Keim said.

— Keim didn’t want CB Justin Bethel getting beat deep on the last touchdown. But he also brought up, on the defensive side, similar discussion about working in unison. Bethel allowed on third-down conversion when Stafford escaped the pocket and moved left. Keim said linebacker Markus Golden was supposed to loop outside on the play and have contain on Stafford’s left. Had he done that, Keim said, Golden would’ve had a sack or at least forced Stafford to throw it early. Instead, Golden stayed inside and Stafford could wait for the receiver to get away from Bethel.


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