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NFL GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Road to the Super Bowl | 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoffs

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Road to the Super Bowl - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 8 teams NFL Playoffs

The Dallas Cowboys missed the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop watching NFL games.

There are four games on tap this weekend:

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots on Saturday and San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos on Sunday.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round - NFL Playoffs Schedule 2013 2014 - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs schedule

Will home-field advantage be established this weekend?

A thrilling Wild Card Weekend saw three road teams prevail in hostile environments — setting up another enticing batch of games. Noting the surprising success enjoyed by visitors this past weekend, which road team is most likely to prevail in the divisional round?

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - New Orleans Saints - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Seattle Seahawks - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Indianapolis Colts - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - New England Patriots - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Francisco 49ers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Carolina Panthers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round
GAMEDAY RESOURCES - San Diego Chargers - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Wildcard Weekend GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Denver Broncos - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs 2013 2014 Divisional Round

The divisional round pits eight of the best quarterbacks in the NFL against one another.

Drew Brees versus Russell Wilson. Andrew Luck against Tom Brady. Colin Kaepernick battles Cam Newton. To top it all off, Philip Rivers will once again take on Peyton Manning in the final game of the weekend.

Whether it’s two young quarterbacks battling to prove who is the better dual-threat signal-caller, a showdown of sophomores versus veterans or two of the most experienced minds in the game facing off, this weekend packs a lot of offensive punch.

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - 2013-2014 NFL Divisional Round - NFL Playoffs Schedule 2013 2014 - 2013 2014 NFL Playoffs schedule - 8 teams

Which teams will survive this hurdle in the race toward Super Bowl XLVIII 48?

GAMEDAY RESOURCES - Superbowl XLVIII - Super Bowl 48 - Super Bowl 2013 2014 - 8 teams

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BLACK MONDAY RECAP: NFL teams cleaning house in hopes of brighter futures

Lovie Smith - Chicago Bears head coach (2004-12) - The Boys Are Back blog

Black Monday has arrived, and it has brought a lot of change and bad news for many coaches and general managers around the NFL.

Andy Reid - Philadelphia Eagles head coach (1999-2012) - The Boys Are Back blog

We’ll have all the big moves covered, and this post will be a one-stop shop for all the latest news.

Norv Turner - San Diego Chargers head coach (2007-12) - The Boys Are Back blog

Here’s what we right know:

Firings

Arizona Cardinals: Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves are out.

Buffalo Bills: Coach Chan Gailey was let go after three seasons that went nowhere in Buffalo. The defense and quarterback play never improved. It’s unclear if general manager Buddy Nix will remain.

Chicago Bears: In the first mild surprise of the day, coach Lovie Smith was fired after three playoff appearances in nine years. General manager Phil Emery took the job last year and will hire his own man.

Cleveland Browns: The team announced Monday morning that coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert are both out. They never had much of a chance once new owner Jimmy Haslam bought the team.

Kansas City Chiefs: Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt announced the team has parted ways with coach Romeo Crennel. The team said it has not made a final decision about GM Scott Pioli’s status.

Philadelphia Eagles: Owner Jeffrey Lurie confirmed Monday morning that coach Andy Reid is out after 14 seasons in Philadelphia. The Eagles won’t waste any time starting a coaching search.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers announced both coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith have been let go. Ron Wolf has been brought in as a consultant to help search for the next leadership group.

Up in the air

Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera has struggled to win close games during his tenure and isn’t a natural in game management. A four-game winning streak to end the season could save his job. The Panthers will hire a new GM.

Chances of a change: Strong. The next GM will decide Rivera’s fate.

Detroit Lions: Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew pulled off one of the best rebuilding efforts of all time after taking over the 0-16 Lions. And then the bottom fell out for a talented roster this year.

Chances of a change: Growing. Multiple outlets said earlier in the week that Schwartz was safe, but Lions ownership is disturbed with the team’s culture, it could make a change. Schwartz is signed through 2015.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Mularkey was hired just last year, but his boss, GM Gene Smith, was fired Monday morning. Mularkey wasn’t able to develop young quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Chances of a change: Good. Mularkey told players in a team meeting that he’s still the head coach after talking with the owner Thursday and Monday. Mularkey’s fate ultimately will be decided by the next GM. Mularkey will have to wait and see.

Safe

Dallas Cowboys: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones intimated throughout the process that he hasn’t even thought about changing head coaches. NFL Network contributor Jay Glazer first reported that coach Jason Garrett was safe two weeks ago. Garrett could be asked to hire an offensive coordinator that calls plays.

New York Jets: The Jets announced that GM Mike Tannenbaum was let go Monday morning. But they also announced Rex Ryan will stay on as coach. It’s an awkward arrangement for whomever the Jets hire to run the personnel department.

Tennessee Titans: The Tennessean reported Monday that coach Mike Munchak will keep his job despite a 6-10 record. Personnel executive Mike Reinfeldt is out, though.

ADRENELINE STRATEGY: Jason Garrett likes playing defense on the road first

Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he likes the idea of playing defense on the road first. For the last three road games, he Cowboys have won the toss and deferred their choice to the second half.

“We feel like there are a lot of statistics that suggest it’s easier to play defense early in games on the road,” Garrett said at his Friday press conference at Valley Ranch. “There are a few other factors that add to this that I don’t want to get into. But we feel like when certain conditions are right, deferring is a better choice for us. A lot of it has to do with being on the road in that kind of environment.”

The Cowboys deferred their choice at Baltimore, Carolina and Atlanta. Baltimore drove 60 yards for a field goal on its opening drive, but Carolina and Atlanta each went three-and-out on the opening drive.

The one time this year the Cowboys won the toss and took the ball on the road, Felix Jones fumbled the kickoff at Seattle.

Other teams might have the same philosophy about opening on defense on the road.

Tampa Bay and Chicago both won the toss at Cowboys Stadium and deferred. The Buccaneers got an interception on the third play. The Bears gave up three first downs but forced a punt.

Two weeks ago at Cowboys Stadium, the New York Giants won the toss, took the ball and drove for a field goal.

SOURCE: Jason Garrett Press Conference 11/09/2012

Video - Watch Now - The Boys Are Back blog - Press play

Jason Garrett Press Conference

Jason Garrett closes out the week from Valley Ranch as the Dallas Cowboys wrap up their final day of preparation for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Did the Redskins give Romney an advantage?

Redskin Rule - The Boys Are Back blog

In 17 of the past 18 elections, the outcome of the final Washington Redskins home game determined the winner of the presidential election.

Was Tuesday’s presidential election actually determined on the gridiron Sunday?

In an odd correlation between sports and politics, the outcome of the Washington Redskins’ final home game before an election has matched up with who won the election in 17 of the past 18 elections. An odd phenomenon is known as the “Redskins Rule.”

If the Redskins win the game, the incumbent president or party wins the election. If they lose, the challenger has won.

On Sunday, the Redskins suffered a 21-13 loss at home to the Carolina Panthers. If you believe the “Redskins Rule,” that means Republican challenger Mitt Romney will be sworn in this January.

Since 1940, the only exception to the rule was in 2004 when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry after a Redskins loss.

BLUEPRINT FOR AN UPSET: Falcons’ weaknesses shown in three narrow wins

Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, center, found some holes in the Baltimore defense and is ready to carry the load against the Giants on Sunday - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But don’t think that makes them unbeatable. In fact, of their seven wins, only one has come against a team (Broncos 4-3) that currently has a winning record.

There was also a three-week stretch in which the Falcons narrowly won games against less than stellar teams.

In week four, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on a last second field goal.

In week five, the Falcons beat the Washington Redskins (who played the end of the game without Robert Griffin III) 24-17.

In week six, the Falcons beat the Oakland Raiders 23-20 at home.

A win is a win in the National Football League, so the point is not to fault the Falcons, but to look to these three games for a formula to beat Atlanta. And after taking a second look at all three games the verdict might not bode well for the Cowboys.

These three teams had success against the Falcons by effectively running the ball.

Dallas Cowboys Phillip Tanner - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys’ offense looked great against the Giants in the second half as they all but abandoned the run game. Don’t expect that to be the most effective strategy against the Atlanta Flacons.

It’s no secret that the Falcons are a big-play, quick-strike offense. With Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, they have three players that average over 10 yards per carry and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Not to mention that Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level.

Teams’ only sustained success this year against the Falcons has been by running the ball and keeping Ryan and the offense off of the field. The Falcons have the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

In their loss to the Falcons, the Panthers rushed for 199 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they ran the ball 35 times versus just 25 passing plays. Ryan still played quite efficiently, but Carolina controlled the tempo for most of the game meaning the Falcons’ offense had more pressure to rely on the big plays of their offense (which they happened to get just enough of to win).

Ironically, it was a Panthers fumble in the last moments of the game that forced them to punt it to the Falcons who drove from their own 1-yard line to hit a game-winning field goal.

The Redskins managed to hang with the Falcons despite losing Robert Griffin III in the third quarter to a concussion.

They did so with a game plan that relied heavily on running back Alfred Morris who got 115 yards off of 18 carries. The predictability of Atlanta’s offense was apparent as Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times in order for the Falcons to reach 24 points. Perhaps with Griffin playing the fourth quarter the Redskins could have continued the success of their ground attack and limited the opportunities for Ryan’s passing plays.

The next week the Oakland Raiders nearly beat the Falcons by dominating the time of possession. The Raiders ran for 149 yards compared to just 45 from the Falcons. The Falcons once again relied on big plays from their wide receivers, but this time it cost them as Ryan threw three interceptions almost costing the Falcons a win.

Like the Panthers and Redskins before them the Raiders played kept a very balanced blend of running and passing the ball. They threw the ball 33 times to go along with 32 running plays. Atlanta made just enough big plays to sneak out a 3-point victory.

What we can take from all of this is relatively obvious; the Falcons rely heavily on the expectation that their receiving threats (mainly Gonzalez, Jones and White) will make enough game-changing plays for them to win. Those players are talented enough for that to be a logical strategy. But no matter how talented your players are, such plays are rarely a given. You can’t just expect to convert every time you throw it deep to your Pro-Bowl receiver. But the Falcons take so many shots that they typically convert enough to win games.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo scrambles for a TD vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

These three teams had success against the Falcons by limiting the amount of shots they could take at big plays. In a sense they gambled that when it came down to crunch time they would be able to prevent the big passing plays. Even though they were wrong, they kept themselves in the game until the final moments.

I think that the Falcons have a clear weakness at running back and it has yet to be fully exposed. The Cowboys’ reluctance to run the ball has been well documented as they have only rushed the ball 24.1 times per game. But the Falcons are actually right behind them at 25.1 times per game.

The Cowboys and Falcons have shared many of the same weaknesses and their strengths lie in some of the same places. But considering how effective the Falcons have been this season compared to the Cowboys it might not be wise to go head to head with them on their strengths.

In other words, the Cowboys don’t want to try to get into a shoot out with the Falcons. Both teams have great weapons on offense, but the Falcons have been much more successful taking advantage of their weapons and winning games off of passing situations.

Compared to their 26th ranked rush defense, the Falcons have the 10th ranked passing defense. Their secondary is a big step up from the Giants’ secondary that the Cowboys passed all over in the second half of last Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar ran 15 times for 105 yards and a 58-yeard touchdown in 2012 Preseason game vs Miami - The Boys Are Back blog

There may be little reason to have faith in the performance of Felix Jones (who is not 100 percent), or Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar for that matter. But beating the Falcons will likely require a commitment to the running game.

Both teams will likely make big plays in the passing game. But Sunday’s game might come down to who can control the game in between those big plays. If the Cowboys fall behind by a touchdown early in the game, handing the ball off to Felix Jones and controlling the clock might not be the most popular decision, but that type of discipline and faith in the running game could be what it takes to take down a team like Atlanta.

LISTEN LIVE–RIGHT NOW: Dallas Cowboy’s postgame show on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network

Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

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RIVAL HEADLINE: Carolina Panthers fall to the Dallas Cowboys 19-14

RIVAL HEADLINE - Carolina Panthers fall to the Cowboys 19-14 - The Boys Are Back blog

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers disappointing season took another bitter turn Sunday.

Dan Bailey kicked two late field goals to give Dallas a 19-14 victory over the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium, dropping Carolina to 1-5 with a trip to Chicago looming next week.

Trailing 16-14, the Panthers’ late attempt to drive for a winning score was thwarted twice on fourth down by the Cowboys.

Facing a fourth-and-two at their own 39-yard line, the Panthers appeared to get the first down on a completion from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen but officials nullified the play, saying the Cowboys had called timeout before it began.

After the timeout, Newton threw an incompletion to Louis Murphy who was hit by Dallas defender Morris Claiborne. Murphy and the Panthers thought it was pass interference but no call was made, turning the ball over to the Cowboys at the Carolina 39-yard line.

It led to a 38-yard Bailey field goal with 53 seconds remaining.

The Panthers got one more shot in the final 50 seconds but couldn’t get past midfield.

Cam Newton completed 20 of 36 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown. He also led the team with 61 rushing yards.

After a sluggish third quarter offensively, the Panthers found a spark late in the third quarter and turned it into a 75-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert that put the Panthers ahead 14-13 with 11:38 remaining.

The Panthers started the drive with a no-huddle offense. Jonathan Stewart broke a 20-yard gain then Louis Murphy caught a 26-yard pass from Newton to move the Panthers to the Dallas 19-yard line.

Two penalties against the Cowboys, an unnecessary roughness and a holding call, helped the Panthers keep the drive alive.

The Cowboys took a 10-7 lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Miles Austin midway through the third quarter. Romo threw a beautiful pass to the back corner of the end zone where Austin was defended by Panthers rookie Josh Norman.

One play earlier, Austin and Romo had connected on a 36-yard pass to move the Cowboys into Carolina territory.

Romo completed 24 of 34 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown.

Dallas stretched its advantage to 13-7 on a 49-yard Dan Bailey field goal with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter.

After wasting some earlier opportunities, the Panthers got a five-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter to take a halftime 7-3 lead.

The possession started with a takeaway when Thomas Davis knocked the ball free from Cowboys receiver Thomas Davis and it was recovered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, giving the Panthers possession at the Dallas 20-yard line after an illegal block penalty against Charles Godfrey.

The Panthers squandered good field position in the first quarter, failing to score after starting their first two possessions at the 40 and 45-yard line, respectively.

The Cowboys used a grinding 18-play, 91-yard drive to take a 3-0 early in the second quarter on a Bailey field goal. Dallas chewed up 10 minutes, 10 seconds with the possession. The Cowboys converted four third-downs on the drive before stalling at the Carolina 1-yard line.

The Panthers finally mounted a drive of their own behind Newton’s running and throwing.

Newton had a 24-yard scramble on third down to keep the drive alive at the Dallas 30-yard line. Two plays later, Newton kept the ball on a designed play and rumbled 21 yards to the Cowboys’ 7-yard line.

But the drive died suddenly when Newton was intercepted in the end zone by Cowboys rookie Morris Claiborne. Newton was looking for receiver Louis Murphy in the end zone when he was hit as began his throw. The pass came up well short and Claiborne made a diving catch to end the Carolina threat.

The Panthers were without starting middle linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble, both inactive due to injuries. It was also their first game since losing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to a season-ending foot injury.

Courtesy: Ron Green Jr | Charlotte Observer

iPADS AND SHOULDER PADS: NFL starting to ditch old paper playbooks

Denver Broncos veteran wide receiver Andre Caldwell looks over the team's playbook on a team-issued computer tablet - The Boys Are Back blog

DENVER (AP) — The days of lugging around 500-page playbooks and stacks of DVDs are over for half of the players in the NFL.

Their teams have gone digital, replacing the old-fashioned thick paper playbooks with iPads that put everything from X’s and O’s to notifications, scouting reports and video cut-ups at their fingertips.

"Technology is taking over the world and we’re just trying to keep up with it," Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell said.

The number of teams using iPads for playbooks and game film has increased this season from two to 14. In the NFC, the Bears, Cardinals, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks are using the tablets as are the Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Dolphins and Ravens in the AFC.

Other teams, such as the Chiefs, Titans and Saints, are using iPads for some things but haven’t completely abandoned three-ring binders, and the Bills are considering switching over next year, when the NFL makes game film available in high definition, coach Chan Gailey said.

The Ravens and Buccaneers were the first teams to go digital last year, although Tampa Bay returned to the traditional playbooks this season under a new coaching staff.

The top model iPads that feature 64 gigabytes of data and retail for $829 each are loaded with about $700 worth of programming, and most teams issue them to roughly 120 players, coaches, scouts and other personnel. That works out to roughly $180,000 per team.

Broncos video director Steve Boxer figures it will take about a year to begin realizing a cost savings from ditching the paper playbooks that consumed trees, money and manpower and kept copy machine repairmen on speed-dial.

Daily itinerary updates, diagrams and video are automatically pushed to each iPad so a player can have the video clips of a practice or game downloaded by the time he gets out of the shower. Because the video isn’t streaming, he can watch it on the airplane or at his apartment, whether or not he has a Wi-Fi connection.

Apps developed by PlayerLync in suburban Denver or Global Aptitude out of Baltimore allow players and coaches to highlight sections in yellow on the tablet’s touchscreen and to write notes with a stylus just as they would with a pencil on paper playbooks. Those notes are saved on servers and can be downloaded again at any time for future reference.

"I don’t think there’s any minuses unless you lose it and have to pay that fine," Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears said.

Continue reading →

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: FB Tony Fiammetta

The Cowboys, who cut four fullbacks over the weekend, signed fullback Tony Fiammetta because they were familiar with him.

“Fullbacks are more scarce in this league than they’ve been in a number of years, and he was a guy that we liked coming out of school,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “So when he became available, we just thought it was a good idea for us to give him an opportunity and see what he can do.”

Fiammetta was a fourth-round pick two years ago by the Panthers out of Syracuse. He practiced Monday.

“It will be a work in progress for him to understand what our system of football is, and hopefully he’ll be able to pick it up fairly quickly,” Garrett said. “We’ll see if he’s able to help us this week at some point.”

The Cowboys used four fullbacks in training camp, last year’s starter Chris Gronkowski, draft pick Shaun Chapas, converted linebacker Isaiah Greenhouse and converted tight end Jason Pociask. They brought Greenhouse back on the practice squad.

Fiammetta already has an idea of how he’ll fit in.

“It looks like they like to use the fullback a lot,” he said. “It looks like they want a fullback that can help the run game out.”

24 Fiammetta, Tony FB 6-0 242 3 Syracuse

2009 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft Countdown website predicted Fiammetta being selected in one of the middle rounds in the 2009 NFL Draft. They described him as an excellent blocker, but with limited ball-carrying experience. NFL Draft Scout rated had him as the number-one fullback out of 87 prospective draft picks. He had the most bench reps at the combine by a back with 30 and posted impressive overall numbers for his position.

Pre-draft measureables
Ht Wt 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP Wonderlic
6′ 0″ 245 4.60 1.53 2.62 4.49 7.31 34″ 9’4″ 30 22

Cowboys cuts have been claimed by other teams

Three Cowboys who were a part of the 26 released Saturday have been claimed on waivers by other teams.

Fullback Chris Gronkowski has been claimed by Indianapolis

Safety Andrew Sendejo has been claimed by the New York Jets

Cornerback Josh Thomas out of Cedar Hill has been claimed by Carolina.

Ravens one-year deal with center Andre Gurode

The Cowboys had hoped to get Thomas, their fifth-round draft pick out of Buffalo, on their practice squad.

On Saturday, the Cowboys cut safety Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and he’s heading to the team’s practice squad, according to a tweet from his agent, Andy Simms.

Charlie Rose – PBS: In-depth sports interview with Jerry Richardson

Appearing as guests on PBS’s Charlie Rose (thanks for the head’s up, SportsBusiness Daily), Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson talked about a variety of issues.  I’ll be posting some of the most interesting aspects of their discussion right here.

The first one relates to the pre-draft meeting between Richardson and quarterback Cam Newton.  Though the topic was addressed by Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer in April, it’s worth repeating.

Richardson, who said that Newton “was dressed perfectly” for their meeting, was blunt.  “I said, ‘Do you have any tattoos?’” Richardson told Rose.  “He said, ‘No, sir.  I don’t have any.’  I said, ‘Do you have any piercings?’  He said, ‘No, sir.  I don’t have any.’  I said, ‘We want to keep it that way.’ . . . .

“We want to keep no tattoos, no piercings, and I think you’ve got a very nice haircut.”

Interjected the host:  “You sound like a Lombardi.”

Said Richardson, “No, I just sound reasonable to me.”

The fact is that, over the years, Richardson has drafted and signed plenty of players who have tattoos and piercings, including tight end Jeremy Shockey.  Apparently, Richardson is willing to tolerate those things when it comes to men who won’t become the face of the franchise.  For someone like Newton, whom Richardson said has “athletic ability unlike anything that I have seen in quite a few years,” Richardson presumably wants him to do nothing that would potentially alienate the mainstream paying customers.

Regardless of the motivation, there’s something troubling about Richardson’s position.  Though Newton can’t be disciplined for getting a tattoo or a piercing or multiple of either, Richardson has made his wishes clear — and he’d likely be unhappy if Newton defies them.

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