Falcons aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on October 27, 2013 – 8:13 pm

A year ago, John Abraham was on the other side, watching the Cardinals’ defense take apart Matt Ryan. Then, he admitted, he was surprised. Watching the unit do it again Sunday, now that he’s part of it? Not so surprising.

“Seeing the defense, the athletes we have, Karlos (Dansby), 58 (Washington), 90 (Dockett), me, 32 (Mathieu), he’s an amazing rookie, 26 (Rashad Johnson), we’ve got so many numbers, 21 (Peterson) — I keep forgetting him,” Abraham rattled off. “There are so many numbers you can call.”

The offense was better Sunday. Much better. But as the Cardinals reach the halfway point, there is little question this team is anchored by a defense that creates problems much of the time. If the offense can do just enough, then maybe they can carve out a 5-3 mark in the second half and be in the playoff hunt.

Regardless, Sunday was not only a good win, but as every noted, a very nice way to hit the bye. The Cards only have a couple of days of practice this week. This is the background with which you want to have them.

Andre Ellington was fantastic. Don’t know how many plays he got, but he still only had 17 touches, and, sorry folks, I don’t expect that to grow tremendously. But that 80-yard run was a thing of beauty. Stepfan Taylor looked good too. Take away his clock-grinding-while-the-Falcons-had-10-in-the-box runs late, and even Taylor had 33 yards on eight yards. Now, the Falcons are not the Seahawks or Niners on defense, but 201 yards rushing is 201 yards rushing.

— And Michael Floyd crushed his cornerback outside on the Ellington 80-yard run. Even Fitz got in a good block. “I don’t like doing it, but I see (Floyd) doing it so well so I just try to keep up with him.”

— Arians would not commit to Ellington as stud starter. He just said he’d wait for Rashard Mendenhall to get 100 percent healthy – which who knows, may be a while, especially now – and evaluate it then. I’m pretty sure he knows what kind of weapon he has in Ellington.

Fitz said if he gets traded, he gets traded and there is nothing he can do about it. I wrote about the whole thing here. Bottom line, we are a long time away from this being something that needs to be talked about. He isn’t going anywhere during the season.

— Today was the first time since the Wild Card playoff win over the Packers after the 2009 season where the Cardinals scored on three straight offensive possessions. (To which I gotta say, wow.)

— That Ellington and Taylor looked good was not a good sign for Ryan Williams, who was inactive as it was. Barring a rash of injuries, yes, it’s possible Williams never is activated this season. But there is a belief in the organization he is worth keeping around, so unless some blow-me-away trade offer is made – and I don’t see it – Williams isn’t going to get cut. No reason to.

— Before the game during warmups just prior to the national anthem, a black cat shot across the field and through the Falcons’ bench. An omen? Who knows? Maybe the cat just partook a little too much during tailgating and decided to streak. I didn’t see any of his friends recording it for Youtube.

— Bradley Sowell was sitting there after the game waiting for reporters. Not as many talked to him this game after the debacle that was the Seattle game. “It’s a much different story for me this week,” the left tackle said. He did look better.

— Matt Ryan, in six games before Sunday: Threw three interceptions, sacked nine times. Ryan Sunday: Threw four interceptions, sacked four times.

— Tyrann Mathieu had an interception, but he nearly had another that he would have returned 99 yards for a touchdown. Now that would have been a highlight.

— That was the first game Carson Palmer had more TD passes than interceptions since the opener. It was also the first time since the opener that Palmer didn’t throw two interceptions. We’ll take that as progress.

That’s enough. With a bye week, there will be plenty of time to break the other stuff down.


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Friday before the Falcons (and Ryan Williams?)

Posted by Darren Urban on October 25, 2013 – 4:05 pm

What is it about Ryan Williams and his story that is so intriguing? The Cardinals go into an important game against the Falcons Sunday, and even if Williams – because of the toe injury of Rashard Mendenhall – is active, he might not even play much. Yet many are waiting to see if Williams is active and what he would do if he played, and I am one of them.

Williams (smartly) hasn’t said much about his situation, but you can tell he’s frustrated. “I’m probably the freshest guy on the team right now,” Williams said. “I’m ready to play. I’m just waiting.” Practices are closed so it’s impossible to know exactly what Williams has done, and since he is so far down the depth chart, he’s likely getting what work he is getting on scout team and not the regular offense. But Bruce Arians has said a couple of times he has been happy with the work Williams has done. Now Sunday, if the Cards, for instance, are going to have newcomer Teddy Williams active to play special teams, who sits instead? Would that be Ryan Williams’ potential spot?

In a lot of ways, Williams might be in a type of limbo. Clearly he isn’t ahead of the others on the depth chart. But Mendenhall’s injury potential is high enough that the Cards might not want to let him go. If Mendenhall goes down with a major injury, do the Cards really want to lean just on two rookies in Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor? (There is still a chance I suppose he could be dealt before Tuesday’s deadline, but I don’t expect it.)

I guess I’m looking forward to seeing that inactive list at 11:55 a.m. Sunday.

— Lot of talk about Ellington, and people keep trying to send me comparative measurements between the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington and other backs, like Jamaal Charles, etc. Look, I can’t speak to those guys. And I don’t know if Ellington could absorb more. But I think what Bruce Arians is thinking about limited reps is the idea that a lot of punishment would take away the best thing about Ellington — his explosion and ability to get outside. I’m sure he’ll touch the ball plenty Sunday.

— The Falcons were a Super Bowl favorite coming into the season. Now, the defense is much more leaky, the offense doesn’t have Julio Jones and Roddy White has been hurt so much he’s a non-factor. Steven Jackson has barely played. Now, it’s not like Atlanta hasn’t been close – their four losses have been by a total of 19 points – but they aren’t as daunting of an opponent as they once might have been.

— Matt Ryan was miserable in last year’s meeting. Ray Horton’s defense made him look terrible. Horton isn’t here anymore, obviously, but Todd Bowles is, and the Cards got after Russell Wilson pretty good. I wouldn’t expect five interceptions again, but the Cards are going to pressure him. “We got in his face early, rattled him up a little bit,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “This is a new team. With them not necessarily having their top guys … we can’t fall into that they aren’t 100 percent. They still have guys who can get the ball in the end zone. But I believe if we do the same recipe as last year, we will have good success.”

— Profootballfocus.com noted that there have been two receivers targeted a league-high six times when an interception has been thrown. One was Giants wideout Reuben Randle. The other? Larry Fitzgerald. Something to consider when Carson Palmer talks about being leery when forcing the ball to Fitz.

— Speaking of Fitz, he hammered Walter Thurmond on a blind-side block last week against Seattle and did it again later to Richard Sherman. They were blows – but they could have been much harder and destructive. Fitz downplayed them, but Seattle coach Pete Carroll came out and praised Fitzgerald for playing football the “new” way – those Seahawks still got hit pretty good, but it didn’t go over the top. You can say what you want about what that means for football, but I have to admit I agree with Carroll. You can walk that line.

— Be sure to welcome our new writer at azcardinals.com when he starts next week: Kyle Odegard. I think you’ll find him a quality addition.

— Arians talks about starting fast and you wonder about the coin flip. Arians has said he will always take the ball if he is given the choice, so the Cards end up with the ball first almost every time. That makes getting off to a quick start even more important in my eyes.

— Arians reiterated what offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said yesterday, that the Cardinals are “hoping” to play Bobby Massie some at right tackle. It will depend on how the game plays out, Arians said, but it would be for a series or two.

— Defensive end Calais Campbell took left tackle Bradley Sowell aside earlier this week to try and give him some advice. “I felt like the offensive linemen, the younger ones, they need to learn what we are trying to do to beat them,” Campbell said on the Big Red Rage radio show. “We just went over how I play the game and what I’m looking for. I gave him my advice. I think he has potential and we need him to win.”

— The Cards do need better play from Sowell at left tackle. And from the offense in general.


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Looking at young players is just that

Posted by Darren Urban on October 21, 2013 – 1:03 pm

There will be no changes to the lineup this week, Bruce Arians said. Yes, he mentioned Bobby Massie possibly playing and looking at young players, but Arians clarified that looking at those players was all he was doing. He wants to make sure they are making progress and “really are the depth we’re looking for,” Arians said.

“It’s just a matter of opportunities in case one arises,” Arians added.

Opportunities, Arians said, come in the form of injuries, mostly. Those included under the microscope, according to the coach: The entire practice squad, along with guard Earl Watford, linebacker Dontay Moch, and tight end D.C. Jefferson. It’s clear the Cards continue to look at tight ends — Arians mentioned practice squad tight end Daniel Fells by name. But unless, for instance, Colledge is down this week because of his back problem (and Watford is currently running as Colledge’s backup), don’t expect an overhaul.

— Colledge (back), WR Brittan Golden (hamstring) and LB Matt Shaughnessy (looked like his leg was wrapped) were sidelined during the open part of Monday’s practice. There is no injury report before Wednesday, but Arians said there were no injury surprises today. He also said the Cards eased off on certain veterans who were hurting.

— The Falcons are expected to get running back Steven Jackson back from practice this week too, although he has missed so much time there is no guarantee he’ll be ready to play Sunday.

— LB Marcus Benard missed practice because he was out of town for the birth of his child. “I congratulate him on that,” Arians said. Arians added Benard played well. Benard started Thursday, although he only played 11 of 67 defensive snaps.

— Wide receiver Michael Floyd reiterated that the entire offense needs to shoulder the blame for its problems, and Arians repeated the same thing when asked about the issues of quarterback Carson Palmer. “I think Carson’s problem is, some are hit and some are the 10 guys around him,” Arians said. “It’s not just the line. It’s the receivers being in the wrong spots and running the wrong routes and not being in their reception areas, and then again the protection.”

— The three biggest injuries announced in the NFL today all impact the Cardinals and their home schedule. The Texans (visit Nov. 10) lost linebacker Brian Cushing for the season, the Colts (visit Nov. 24) lost wide receiver Reggie Wayne for the season, and the Rams (visit Dec. 8) lost quarterback Sam Bradford for the season.

 

 


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With 2014 schedule, London calling?

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2013 – 3:03 pm

The NFL announced today that three teams will host games in London during the 2014 season: Jacksonville, Oakland and Atlanta. Why does that matter? Because you never know if the Cardinals could get picked to be the visiting team to a London game.

The Cards don’t play Jacksonville next season. But they do travel to Oakland, and with an away game at the “matching” NFC South team wherever they finish, there is a chance the Cardinals could have a road game in Atlanta next season — making then two of the three London games possible. We are far away from knowing for sure, of course, but it’s an interesting tidbit to chew on.

So, as long as we are discussion the 2014 opponents — because why wouldn’t you five games into the previous season — here is the list of the Cardinals’ schedule-to-be:

HOME

Philadelphia Eagles

Washington Redskins

Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego Chargers

NFC North “like” finisher (If Cardinals finish in second place in division, for instance, they play the second-place team from NFCN)

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams

AWAY

Dallas Cowboys

New York Giants

Denver Broncos

Oakland Raiders

NFC South “like” finisher

Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis Rams


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Stars falling by wayside ahead of Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on October 8, 2013 – 10:32 am

The Cardinals are going through their most difficult stretch of the schedule, but the news today lends itself to possible advantages in the Cards’ favor as they move forward. Division foes San Francisco and Seattle have been rolling, and those are the next two games, but after that, last year’s playoff teams Atlanta and Houston visit University of Phoenix Stadium. Both those teams have been struggling mightily anyway. The Texans are getting poor quarterback play from Matt Schaub, and that got harder with the news top tight end Owen Daniels will reportedly miss up to six weeks with a broken leg. Given that the Cards have had issues covering tight ends, that’s not a bad thing for Arizona.

But the bigger news is that the Falcons, who come in Oct. 27, have lost wide receiver Julio Jones for the season with a foot injury. That is a crushing blow to a team many thought could reach the Super Bowl but instead have started 1-4. Fellow Pro Bowler Roddy White (below) is already having a bad season thanks to ankle and hamstring problems. Jones is a star, now he won’t play.

It’s not like the Cards haven’t had their own injuries. No one roots for injuries, but as every coach ever likes to say, “No one feels sorry for us.” If the Cards can win those games, no one will be putting an asterisk on them.

PPRoddyUse

 


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Final four factor for Cards

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2013 – 11:07 am

The Cardinals, for a second straight season, played three of the teams in the NFL’s final four. It helps that division brother San Francisco has made it in, and the Cardinals had their trouble with the 49ers this season, whether Alex Smith was the quarterback or Colin Kaepernick was calling signals. The games against the other two opponents that have made it to the championship games went a little bit better. The trip to Atlanta was a loss, yes, but it should have been a win with the way the defense played that day, amid the controversy of the benching-Skelton-for-Lindley situation. Obviously, the trip to New England was the Cardinals’ signature victory of the season, complete with late-game dramatics and a heart-stopping ending.

(And a game that seems like it was four years ago, not four months ago.)

It’s the same 1-3 record the Cards had against final four opponents last season. It’s hard to make a lot of comparisons with the way those teams are playing now to when the Cards met them. Even though the 49ers last game before beating up the Packers Saturday night was against Arizona, the game plan devised by the Niners with Kaepernick looked so deadly the other day. The Cards didn’t play great in that finale, but Kaepernick at least didn’t look like a Hall of Famer like he did against Green Bay. The Patriots, who lost tight end Aaron Hernandez early that day against the Cards, have clearly smoothed out the offense. The Falcons just don’t scare anyone, even in their dome, and everyone seems to agree — the Niners are road favorites against the No. 1 seed, for goodness sake.

— In the head coach search, Jay Glazer reported the Cards want to talk to Broncos OC Mike McCoy for a second interview. He was interviewed in Denver the first time so you’d figure everyone would want to get him in the building so he could actually see the physical situation.

Final4BlogUSE


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Friday before the Falcons

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2012 – 4:49 pm

The bye week is always good – I know I appreciate it, so I can only imagine the players’ delight – but it is tough when you go two weeks between games. The storylines dry up a bit, especially this deep in the season, when there isn’t actual action from which to play off.

At this point, maybe it’s helps to look at it simply. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and the players were asked many times different ways about a midseason/bye assessment the past couple weeks. One Whisenhunt answer summed it up best.

“What is there to say besides it’s not good enough?” he said.

True. The 4-0 start is well in the rear view mirror. I don’t think anyone can argue that the Cardinals winning Sunday in Atlanta would be an upset, but in the NFL, it wouldn’t be some kind of stunning shock either. Everything changes if the Cards were to win. But to have that chance, the Cardinals can’t drop passes, can’t miss tackles, can’t get off to slow starts on offense or defense. They have to be good enough.

— The Cardinals have not, as noted, been tackling very well. It hasn’t been a season-long problem, but it’s been a problem for late. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton wasn’t concerned it will continue to be a problem.

“One of our coaches said today that in practice this week, it reminded us how they practiced for New England,” Horton said. “Very focused, very alert, very sharp. I don’t think tackling will be an issue. They are ready for this game.”

— Whisenhunt was asked if he had even been on a team that started two rookie tackles. “Nope,” Whiz said, allowing himself a chuckle. “I think I would remember that. We have been through some tough situations with the line during my time in the NFL. I don’t think I’ve ever started two rookie tackles.”

Nate Potter and Bobby Massie are a first Sunday.

— Here was quarterback John Skelton’s assessment of Potter’s first playing time in Green Bay. “He had the jitters a little bit, but the first play we asked him to block Clay Matthews and he did a good job,” Skelton said. Skelton just happened to hit Andre Roberts on a 40-yard bomb that play. It’s going to be a learning curve for Potter, but it’s definitely will be interesting to watch.

— I know the Falcons are calling wide receiver Julio Jones a game-day decision, but a sprained ankle is tough for a wide receiver, and from what I have always seen, any guy who doesn’t practice all week tends to be not much of a factor on Sunday even if the player does play.

— Calais Campbell could play Sunday, I suppose, but I don’t expect it. It’s like Darnell Dockett being banged up earlier in the year – you’d rather have a player miss one game rather than risk a longer-term problem. If Campbell sits, it looks like David Carter will get a shot at a lot of playing time. It’s easy to forget how well Carter played at times as a rookie. He’s definitely a player the Cards can develop and if he can play both end and tackle, even better.

— I know a lot of people keep asking. I don’t know what to expect from tight end Todd Heap. He was limited all week and questionable. I’d guess he’s one of the ones that will work out before the game, and the Cards will go from there. I have zero idea if this is the week he plays.

— Ralphie is an Arizona Cardinals’ fan. Who knew?

— This will be the first start for Quentin Groves at linebacker, following the season-ending injury to O’Brien Schofield. That shouldn’t be a huge deal; Groves, after all, has been a starter in Oakland and Jacksonville. But it also means the Cards’ depth behind Groves and Sam Acho falls on a pair of first-year Cards: Jamaal Westerman and undrafted rookie Zack Nash. Westerman has experience, but he was also the one left inactive on game in favor of Nash, which could say something about both of them. If Acho or Groves get nicked, how the backups respond will be important.

“They don’t have much choice.” Whisenhunt said. “This league, you have to play and be successful when you aren’t getting all the (practice) reps.”

— A quick heads-up: “Season In Focus” will air Saturday morning at 7 a.m. on ABC-15. There will be a recap of the first half of the season, a “Wired” segment with linebacker Daryl Washington and a “Zoom” episode featuring a Cardinals cheerleader who happens to be a veteran of the war in Iraq. Then on “Flightplan” – airing Saturday at midnight on NBC Ch. 12 right after “Saturday Night Live,” Whisenhunt and Ron Wolfley break down video of the Roberts’ bomb and Potter’s overall work in his first game.

The second half of the season is upon us.


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Bring the noise

Posted by Darren Urban on November 16, 2012 – 10:43 am

Every week, the Cardinals — like most teams in the NFL — pump in crowd noise at practice in order to prepare for the upcoming game. It’s done before home games as well as the road, but obviously, it means more when a team is about to play a road game. And to play a road game in a dome, like the Cardinals will do Sunday in Atlanta, the importance grows that much more.

“It makes it smoother for us to operate when we simulate it in practice,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You can’t ever make it exactly how it’s going to be. It’s hard. But you have to practice with it because you have to get used to the mechanics of operating that way. We’ve gotten a lot better and I think teams in the NFL in general have gotten a lot better with that. They understand how to operate and work with it. It’s not easy.”

That rings true to me, that teams have gotten better dealing with crowd noise. Once upon a time, an opposing quarterback was allowed to ask a referee to reset the play clock because he felt it was too loud and he couldn’t communicate. Thankfully, the NFL did away with that rule. Part of home-field advantage is having a crowd that can affect the other team. Certainly, the Cardinals have had that work in their favor at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Seahawks and their “12th man” are famous for it in Seattle.

But teams adjust. Offenses, for the most part, are pretty good with a silent count. Teams use the shotgun so much more these days (Jeez, I remember growing up how the Cowboys were so cutting edge because Roger Staubach was the only one using a shotgun. That was a long, long time ago.) that communication isn’t always easy with the offensive line even when the crowd isn’t over the top.

Don’t get me wrong, noise is still a factor, and it still bothers teams. Offensive linemen in particular will acknowledge that. “We know it’s going to be a tough environment,” Whisenhunt said of Atlanta, and that much is true. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating, and the Cards try to make sure of that.

 


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Before 2012, a glance at 2013 opponents

Posted by Darren Urban on July 17, 2012 – 1:22 pm

Yes, yes, I know I am early. Way early. But as long as the info is out there — and while we still have a little bit before we get to training camp — here is a look at who the Cardinals’ opponents will be for the 2013 season.

HOME

— Indianapolis (Andrew Luck!)

— Carolina (Cam Newton!)

— Houston (Arian Foster.)

— Atlanta (Roddy White?)

— NFC North team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

AWAY

— New Orleans

— Tampa Bay

— Jacksonville

— Tennessee

— NFC East team that matches Cards’ spot in 2012 standings

— and, of course, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco.

I was going to do a little analysis, but then I realized how foolish that was this far out.


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Revisionist History: Fitz’s magical month

Posted by Darren Urban on July 6, 2011 – 4:19 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

The accomplishments certainly weren’t lost as the Cardinals went on their most exciting month-long journey ever back in the first few weeks of 2009, but I’m not totally sure what Larry Fitzgerald was doing in the playoffs that year could have been completely appreciated given the circumstances.

As the wins came and the Super Bowl got closer, talking just about one player didn’t make sense (let’s not get it twisted – Fitz still got plenty of attention over those five weeks of the postseason, and I just thumbed through his clip file if I hadn’t remembered).  When you go back and think, however, it almost started innocently against the Falcons.

At that point, the Cards just wanted to win a playoff game, after the 2-5 slide on which they entered the postseason. Fitz had 101 yards on six receptions that day, including an acrobatic catch in double-coverage for a 42-yard touchdown. But that was early, and the moments burned more harsh in the brain were things like Anquan Boldin’s 71-yard catch-and-run TD on which he came up hurt, the Dockett/Rolle combo that created a fumble for a touchdown, and tight end Stephen Spach’s game-clinching catch.

Fitz had nice numbers, but that was supposed to happen.

The next game, though, that’s when the momentum began to build. And when Fitz truly exploded.

Boldin was injured. The Cards were on the road in Carolina. And yet Fitzgerald ran roughshod, finishing with 166 yards on eight catches, with 122 of those yards coming when there was still five minutes left in the first half and the Cards were in complete control. He caught another bomb in double-coverage. He did whatever he wanted against the Panthers (who shouldn’t have been surprised; he had seven receptions for 115 yards when the teams met earlier in the season in Carolina and instead they looked like they had no idea how to deal with him). When Fitz scored his TD – an amazing effort on a crossing route in which he dove for the pylon and scored – it was still the first half and yet it felt like an exclamation point had already been stamped on the game.

His numbers were incredible. The Eagles knew this. They insisted during the week they would not let Fitzgerald go off. A noble pursuit. Yet at that point, impossible to back up with actions. Fitzgerald had three touchdown catches in the first half (he finished with nine receptions for 152 yards). The Eagles slowed him down in the second half, but he had done enough damage. It had reached the expectation that Fitzgerald was certain to get 125 yards in a game, that every jump ball would be his, that he could do no wrong and would carry the team all the way to a title. I mean, Boldin was back for the Eagles, but at that moment, Fitz was alone in the receiving stratosphere, not only on his own team but the entire league. There was no question.

(Well, I guess there was some question. But what is the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl about if not hyperbole.)

In the Super Bowl, Fitz had just one catch in the first three quarters. He had finally been tamed by the famed Steel Curtain. Except he wasn’t, suddenly going off in the final 15 minutes during the Cards’ furious rally, coming up with six receptions and capping it all with that magical 64-yard catch-and-run that seemed destined to be the highlight to signify the Cards’ improbable championship. Then it wasn’t, instead a reminder of what could have been.

The loss didn’t take away from what Fitzgerald did, however. He had seven more catches for 127 yards in the game and he had played so well for so long some were even marveling about the plays he almost made. He set playoff records for catches (30), yards (546) and TDs (7). It was a performance for the ages. “A lot of those playoff catches, he had guys draped over him and he was just making plays,” fellow wideout Steve Breaston said at the time. “You did kind of wonder: When was anyone going to stop him?”

That postseason, the answer was never.


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