NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer was limited in practice on Thursday with a sprained foot. Spencer, who has recovered from microfracture surgery, is expected to play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Linebacker Bruce Carter (thigh), who missed the last three games, was a limited participant in practice on Thursday. Carter said he felt good and should play against Washington.

"I did all the drills, special teams, I did everything," said Carter, who worked in the base and nickel packages. "I think as the week goes on and me running around, I'll be able to open up more each day and I think I'll be fine on Monday night."

Wide receiver Dez Bryant (shoulder) and right tackle Jermey Parnell (chest) were full participants in practice.

Defensive end Jack Crawford (calf), right tackle Doug Free (foot), safety Jakar Hamilton (personal reasons) and quarterback Tony Romo (back) didn't practice.
IRVING, Texas – Jason Hatcher was a member of the Dallas Cowboys for eight seasons. He thought he knew all about the rivalry with the Washington Redskins.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Hatcher is seven games into his time with the Redskins after signing with Washington as a free agent, and he is seeing the rivalry from the other side for the first time.

“I’ll tell you what; they hate Dallas more than Dallas hate us over here,” Hatcher said on a conference call Thursday leading into the "Monday Night Football" contest at AT&T Stadium. “They really hate Dallas.”

How does he notice the difference?

Just the fans, man,” said Hatcher, who had 11 sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl last season.

“Everywhere you go, grocery store or whatever, these guys, they’re hard-nosed fans. They know their players. It’s all you hear wherever you go, man. Facebook, Twitter, whatever you’re on, they hate Dallas. They got signs up everywhere down here. It’ll be great for the fans to experience a great Monday night game with a big rivalry. It’s great for the fans.”

This will be the 16th meeting between the teams on "Monday Night Football." The Cowboys lead 8-7.

“It was a great rivalry long before I was around here – great history between these two franchises,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “The biggest thing for us is to focus on us and get ready to play our best football.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter, who has missed the last three games with a thigh injury, returned to practice Thursday. Cowboys officials hope Carter will be healthy enough to play in Monday's game against the Washington Redskins.

Carter
Carter
Also, cornerback Brandon Carr, who finished last week's game against the New York Giants with a pulled hamstring, was participating during the open media access period of practice.

Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, currently on the reserve/non-football injury list, practiced for the first time this season. Okoye has recovered from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition that causes memory loss and seizures. Okoye was in a coma for three months last year.

Safety Jakar Hamilton (personal reasons), quarterback Tony Romo (back), defensive end Jack Crawford (calf) and Doug Free (foot) missed practice.

Romo, however, did participate in the walk-through session.
IRVING, Texas -- As Jason Hatcher entered what turned out to be his final year with the Cowboys, he was quick to tell people the reason would be Tyrone Crawford.

Hatcher
Hatcher
Crawford
Crawford was a third-round pick in 2012 and while he did not record a sack as a rookie, Hatcher believed the potential was there for him to be an every down player. The Cowboys never expected Hatcher to put up 11 sacks and earn a Pro Bowl bid last year, nor did they expect Crawford to miss the 2013 season with a torn Achilles.

When the free-agent market opened, the Cowboys did not make a real effort to keep Hatcher, but they weren't sure how Crawford would come back. It took three games for the Cowboys to move Crawford to the spot Hatcher played last year.

In the four games Crawford has posted 15 tackles, eight quarterback pressures and a tackle for loss.

The influence of Hatcher, who plays against the Cowboys Monday with the Washington Redskins, on Crawford remains strong. Crawford has a 150-play cut up of Hatcher highlights that he inspects a lot.

"Big enough I call him big brother," Crawford said. "Just the way he played, the way he came out to practice, everything he told me inside and outside about the NFL, he just helped me out a lot. The way he treated us young guys, he didn't come in and wasn't like cocky at all. He was just great to us."

It might be fitting his first sack comes this week with Hatcher on the other sideline.

"I mean at this point it's really like I need to get a sack anyways," Hatcher said.
IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys skirmished with Seattle at the end of the first half two weeks ago. They had a pre-game skirmish with the New York Giants.

They even fought with the Oakland Raiders and among themselves at times during training camp.

These Cowboys, it seems, have no intention of being bullied, which is interesting because they haven’t really been known as a physical team since Bill Parcells left. Sure, the Cowboys played hard, but they didn't physically dominate either side of the ball.

Then again, this is the first year that Jason Garrett has passed out limited edition navy blue T-shirts that read, “Fight.” on the front.

“Fight is a really important word. There’s a lot of levels of fight, but ultimately, it’s about fighting to be your best,” Garrett said. “That’s what the whole thing is about, and we have to do that every day.

“It’s a big theme for us. It’s a big mantra for us -- fight to be your best regardless of the circumstances.”

Despite the 6-1 record, the Cowboys have had to fight in virtually every game.

They fought back from embarrassment after falling behind 28-3 to San Francisco. They fought off Tennessee in the second half after the Titans pulled within a touchdown after falling behind 16-0.

They fought back from 21-0 against the Rams, 10-0 to Seattle and 14-7 to the New York Giants.

“Certainly our game leads itself to fight -- fight with the opponents, battle hard and all that stuff,” said Garrett, “we want to do that individually and as a team.

“You have to earn it every single day. Just because you did it yesterday doesn’t really mean anything. Now it’s today and you have to go do it again.”

Tony Romo growing more accurate too

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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IRVING, Texas -- In addition to saying he would be the best version of himself over the next few years, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo also said he was throwing the ball as well as he ever had. And he said it after he threw three interceptions in the season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers too.

Romo
Romo was not talking about arm strength, but his ability to put the ball where he wants.

Through seven games, he is completing 69.2 percent of his passes, which is the best in the NFL and would be the best percentage of his career over a full season. He completed 69.5 percent of his passes in 2010 but played only six games because of a broken collarbone.

Romo has long touted technical advances made in the offseason and always hints at things he finds while doing a lot of throwing, he did not do much or any throwing over the spring as he rehabbed from back surgery.

There may be tiny changes Romo has made to his release, arm angle or hand placement -- though he will never directly reveal those -- that have helped, the Cowboys’ pass protection might be a big reason for Romo’s increased accuracy.

“Certainly the better environment that you’re in the more accurate you’re going to be,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Tony’s been a very accurate passer throughout his career and I think if you look back he’s probably been more accurate when he’s been protected well and guys are open and maybe less accurate when he’s not quite as comfortable in the pocket because of the pressure he’s getting or guys aren’t getting away from their guys downfield.”

Last year, Romo completed just 63.9 percent of his passes, the lowest of his career since 2009 when he completed 63.1 percent. That year, however, his average per attempt was 8.2 yards, so having a lower completion percentage with more attempts down the field made some sense. Last year he averaged just 7.2 yards per attempt, a career low.

So far this season, not only is he completing 69.2 percent of his passes, his average per attempt is 8.4 yards.
IRVING, Texas - Although Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray have played together since 2011, the Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants marked only the third time each surpassed the 100-yard mark in the same game.

Two of the three have occurred this season -- and it’s going to occur considerably more often as long as Scott Linehan calls the plays.

That’s because Linehan believes in getting the ball to his best players.

[+] EnlargeBryant/Murray
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDez Bryant and DeMarco Murray are the most prolific offensive duo in the NFL this season.
Murray carried 28 times for 128 yards, and Bryant had nine catches for 151 yards against the Giants. Against Tennessee, Murray had 29 carries fro 167 yards and Bryant caught 10 for 103 yards.

Bryant (79 targets) and Murray (187 carries and 26 targets) have been the designed recipient of the ball on a ridiculous 63.3 percent of the Cowboys' 461 plays this season. Pittsburgh is the only other team whose top running back and receiver have accounted for even 50 percent of a team’s plays.

Le'Veon Bell (117 carries and 43 targets) and Antonio Brown (74 targets) have had the ball directed their way on 50 percent of the Steelers' 468 plays.

Murray seems to have really found a rhythm with the zone-blocking scheme the Cowboys often employ. He has at least three runs of 10 yards or more in each of the Cowboys’ seven games.

As Murray will tell you, it’s not just about him and the offensive line. The tight ends have done a consistently good job of sealing the edge so he can get to the perimeter, and the receivers have done a good job holding their blocks.

“DeMarco is doing a fantastic job for us,” Garrett said. “He’s seeing softness in the defense, he’s feeling things, he’s getting north and south and he’s finishing runs.

“Sometimes when it’s 2 and 1 and 2 and 1 and 3[-yard-runs], a back can get frustrated. But he’s still believing in the runs and making sure he’s giving every one of them a chance, and as the games go on, you see him have more and more success.”

Bryant had only two catches for 15 yards in the first half, but he didn’t frustrated. Instead, he remained patient and waited until the Giants went to a coverage he could successfully attack.

“He has a real mature approach, a real calm approach, and he’s a really fiery guy. He’s a great competitor and for him to balance those things throughout the game and wait for his opportunities is really impressive.”
IRVING, Texas -- Tight end James Hanna has played 135 snaps, starting six of seven games this season.

He has yet to catch a pass.

Actually, Tony Romo has directed only one pass Hanna’s way -- and that was three games ago against New Orleans - but Jason Garrett says the tight end plays a valuable role for the Dallas Cowboys.

Hanna
Hanna spends much of his playing time as a blocking tight end, which should probably be considered impressive considering he’s just 249 pounds. By contrast, Jason Witten is 265 pounds.

“I think he’s a good player in the run game and a good player in the pass game," Jason Garrett said. "I think he’s underappreciated athletically, and I think he’s getting better technically as blocker.

“He’s a young player who continues to grow. He wants to be a good player and there’s a reason he’s playing. He’s worthy of having opportunities. We ask him to do a lot of things and some of it’s not fancy stuff that’s glamorous -- it’s some of the dirty work -- but he embraces it and gets better at it.”

One of the things you notice about the complementary players on this offense is they don't grumble about their roles. Sure, players such as receiver Dwayne Harris and running backs Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle want to play more and Gavin Escobar, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams would like more passes directed their way.

But Garrett constantly preaches the importance of the team and these players have bought in, which hasn’t always been the case for the Cowboys.

“We have guys who understand the importance of doing their job,” Garrett said. “A lot of times their job isn’t the glamorous thing to do, but they understand that helps us have success on that particular play and, ultimately, that helps us have success as a football team.

“Guys understand that. We have a lot of good players and a lot of good people on our team.”
IRVING, Texas – After the first seven games of Barry Church’s rookie year, the Dallas Cowboys were 1-6 and on their way to 1-7.

Wade Phillips was fired at the midway point of that season, replaced by Jason Garrett, and the Cowboys finished 6-10.

Seven games into Church’s fifth season, the Cowboys are 6-1 and hold the best record in the NFL. Before this stretch, the best Church experienced was 7-4 in 2011.

[+] EnlargeTerrell McClain
AP Photo/David SeeligTerrell McClain lost 14 consecutive games with the Texans last season. He sees a lot of passion among the Cowboys in 2014.
“I’ve never been 6-1, so I would say it feels amazing to me,” Church said in the locker room after the Cowboys beat the New York Giants. “We’ve just got to keep it going one at a time and hopefully make ti 10-1, 11-1. But just keep it one at a time.”

The Cowboys are enjoying this ride even if they are not smelling the roses, as owner and general manager Jerry Jones said last week. They are enjoying it but not reveling in it. Garrett’s “process” has won out. Bu the players also know how quickly things can change.

Last year, Terrell McClain was with the Houston Texans. They started out 2-0 and lost their final 14 games. They changed coaches, firing Gary Kubiak and hiring Phillips as the interim.

“In Houston what happened with us was we started blaming the wrong people,” McClain said. “We wasn’t staying together trying to overcome things. What I see with this team is there’s something magical. We get down but we come in at halftime, go over the corrections, put it behind us and move on and go to the next snap and find a way to come back. Everybody’s got the fight in them. It’s passionate. Everybody is passionate about winning and we’ve got a good thing going right now.”

The Cowboys are not looking at their recent play as a six-game winning streak. It’s more like six separate wins. They'll go for a seventh on Monday against the Washington Redskins.

“We have some guys who’ve been here when Dallas has been winning and I’ve been on winning teams,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said, “and you go to understand you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t look too far. We’ve got to focus on doing our job, always staying the same. It’s hard to stay the same in this league, but you’ve got to stay the same, got to be mentally tough and be ready for games and have no letdown.”

As much as Church is enjoying 6-1, he remembers what 1-6 felt like.

“We’re going to put our hearts into the game,” Church said, “and hopefully our fans will trust that and come out and support us each and every week.”
IRVING, Texas -- After the first training camp practice, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sat on the back side of a television set and said something that was eyebrow-raising just for the timing of it.

"I feel personally like I've just started to come into the player that I wanted to be six, seven years ago," Romo said then. "I think -- and I've said it before -- but I think over the course of the next four or five years, you'll see the best version of me that I've had throughout my career.”

He had just one full practice after December back surgery. He turned 34 in April. He already had started 108 games for the Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo has benefited from a more balanced offensive attack.
In his seven-plus seasons as the Cowboys' starter, Romo put up staggering numbers. He became the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns, 3,000-yard seasons, 300-yard games and quarterback rating. He played in three Pro Bowls. He won more than he lost, although since 2010 his record was 25-28 entering this season.

The narrative was set in stone: He could compile stats, but he would make too many mistakes to keep a team from winning big.

But here he was in Oxnard, California, on July 25 saying the best version of himself will come out in the next four or five years at an age when quarterbacks -- at least those not named Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- start to slow at least a little.

After so much time, he was who he was.

Or so everybody thought.

After Romo completed 17 of 23 passes for 279 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against the New York Giants, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that could have been Romo’s best game.

An ESPN Dallas Hot Button question last week asked if this was the best season Romo has had. Fifty-eight percent of those who responded said yes.

Coach Jason Garrett has seen all but 10 of Romo’s starts for the Cowboys. He would never list Romo’s best games in order, but the quarterback’s performance against the Giants was impressive.

“His pocket presence was outstanding, his efficiency and his playmaking ability in the red zone, cashing in on drives was really something else, got everybody involved,” Garrett said. “I thought he did a really good job of seeing the defense and seeing what they were trying to do and throwing to the right guy. Dez [Bryant] got a lot of attention throughout the game. [Jason] Witten got a lot of attention throughout the game. So some of the complementary players had some opportunities and he gave them chances to make plays and they certainly took advantage of them.”

Romo leads the NFL in completion percentage (69.2). He is fourth in quarterback rating (104.7). He is fourth in yards per attempt (8.4). He is fifth in touchdowns (14). He is 10th in yards (1,789).

For years the Cowboys' offense has been solely about Romo. Now it’s about the running game and balance -- and Romo. Garrett said there is less of a burden on Romo this year than in the past. Romo did not like that word, nor did he like it when he was asked if his job is easier this year.

“It’s never easy,” Romo said. “I think playing quarterback in the National Football League is always a fun grind that you continually know when you let up, you can be exposed. I don’t think that’s the term I would use, but I do think anytime you have a running game, it’s going to benefit everybody.”

But the change in offensive style has been good for Romo and has allowed him to play the best football of his career.

So maybe his statement last July will prove to be correct.
IRVING, Texas -- Rolando McClain has received a lot of deserved praise for what he has meant to the vast improvement of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, but it is the work of a holdover from last year's defense that has made similar significant contributions to the success.

Durant
According to the coaches' breakdowns, Justin Durant leads the Cowboys with 51 tackles, one more than McClain. He has one tackle for loss, two quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

The only defensive category he hasn't filled yet is a sack.

"I think he's playing and he's playing pretty darn well," coach Jason Garrett said. "One of the evaluations we made in the offseason you go back and look at guys and you have kind of a reel for each player. And if you look at his reel, it's pretty darn good. He was dealing with some injuries at different times last year, so I don't know if he ever got in a great rhythm in the defense. But when you go play by play and see how he played last year, he did a really nice job for us. We were certainly hopeful about his progress in this defense and I think he's done a really good job emerging as a defensive leader in Sean Lee's absence."

Durant was originally pegged to replace Lee as the middle linebacker, but then McClain was too good to keep off the field. He played strong-side linebacker mostly last year, subbing for Lee in the middle at New Orleans once, but the Cowboys moved him to the weak-side late in the preseason and he has flourished.

"I think it's definitely up there," Durant said when asked if this is the best start to a season he has had. "But it's always room for improvement. I've definitely been around the ball more than I've been in the past as far as getting difference-making plays (like) turnovers. Definitely more than in the past. I've got to give credit to the coaches for allowing me to play the way I play. We depend on each other to be successful on our own. We've got to be thankful for everybody."

Durant played in only 10 games (six starts) last year before injuries cut short his season. He was credited with 30 tackles, two tackles for loss, two quarterback pressures, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. He has 21 more tackles in five games this season, having missed two contests with a groin injury.

Durant's play in the offseason and training camp earned him a vote by his teammates as defensive captain, which also raised his level of play.

"When the guys voted me as captain on the team, I just still can't believe to this day that they believed in me that much," Durant said. "I think it's part of my job to go out there and show them why they voted me captain. I try to play every play like it's my last. I'm not really a big talker, so I try to lead by example as much as I can."
IRVING, Texas -- The trade deadline is Oct. 28, but the Dallas Cowboys already feel like they have a big acquisition on the way in rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.

Lawrence will begin his second week of practice on Thursday as he works his way back from a broken right foot suffered in training camp and can make his season debut Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals.

On 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said Lawrence had “everybody frothing at the mouth,” at practice last week. The Cowboys placed Lawrence on short-term injured reserve, which knocked him out of the first eight games, but allowed him to get 100 percent healthy after surgery.

Lawrence
The Cowboys have an obvious need for a pass rusher with only seven sacks in seven games. Coach Jason Garrett acknowledged the pass rush was not good in the win against the New York Giants and must improve as the season goes on.

“You have to win one-on-one rushes,” Garrett said. “You have to get more pressure with your down guys. Maybe it’s one-on-one rushes, maybe it’s rush games, maybe it’s bringing people. i don’t think we did a good enough job affecting the quarterback in [Sunday’s] game. You talk all you want about not having any sacks but you also have to affect the guy. I thought they did a pretty good job in their passing game getting the ball out quickly. We didn’t get a chance to get to the quarterback and disrupt the passing game as much as we liked. There were some good individual efforts, and at times we did a good job in that area, but we continue to have to improve there. It’s a really important part of playing good defense.”

That’s where Lawrence comes in. The Cowboys gave up their second- and third-round picks to the Washington Redskins in order to move up to the 34th pick in the second round to take Lawrence. He was their third-rated right defensive end in the draft behind Jadeveon Clowney and Anthony Barr, who went first and ninth overall, respectively.

Lawrence had 20 sacks in two years at Boise State and was having a productive camp until getting hurt in a pass rush drill against Tyron Smith.

“Just working on my movement, getting back into it so at times I felt a little rusty, but then again I felt like I never left, if you know what I mean,” Lawrence said of his practice work last week. “It’s really just getting back into football shape.”

Lawrence said his foot has not given him any issues in his rehab, and the time in the weight room has made him stronger.

“I feel like I put on at least 10 pounds basically just working out every day. That’s all I could do,” Lawrence said. “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and in some way I feel like I ain’t lost my step either. It’s a good feeling I have about coming back.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Amobi Okoye is expected to practice Thursday for the first time with the Cowboys, his attorney, Darin Morgan, told ESPN's Adam Caplan.

Okoye
Okoye is on the reserve/non-football injury list as he continues to come back from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain condition that causes memory issues and seizures and that had Okoye in a coma for three months last year.

Okoye, 27, was cleared for contact at the end of training camp, but the Cowboys kept him on the injury list so he could continue to rehab. Once the Cowboys activate Okoye, there will be a three-week window in which he can practice but not count against the 53-man roster. At the end of that period, the Cowboys will have to activate him, keep him on the injury list for the season, or release him.

Okoye said two weeks ago he no longer doubts he will play again. He said he is in much better shape after the extended workouts with strength and conditioning coach Mike Woicik. He signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys in May.

If he can return this year, he would be part of a defensive line rotation that has been beset by injuries. Anthony Spencer (knee) has already returned, while DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) is expected to return soon.

The Cowboys will monitor Okoye's work closely since no player has ever played in the NFL after recovering from this condition.

Okoye last played in the NFL in 2012 with the Bears.
IRVING, Texas -- Back in August, Stephen Jones said he hoped DeMarcus Ware got to the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, such is the feelings the Dallas Cowboys executive vice president has for the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks.

Jones was quickly asked that day which NFC team Ware would face.

“You know what I hope,” Jones said. “But then you’ll all say I’m predicting the Super Bowl. But I hope he gets to it, for sure.”

There were a bunch of laughs after he said that, but now? Who knows, maybe it will happen?

The Cowboys have the NFL’s best record at 6-1. Ware’s Broncos have the best record in the AFC at 5-1. They also have this quarterback you may have heard about: Peyton Manning. He just set some NFL record with his 510th career touchdown pass.

SportsNation

Which opponent in the next four games will give Dallas its second defeat?

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Discuss (Total votes: 11,248)

The Cowboys still have a long way to go to feel as secure as the Broncos, but given the formula that is working so well, there is a path to Glendale, Arizona. The Cowboys control the line of scrimmage, run the ball and control the time of possession. The offense can score points and the defense is opportunistic.

Would it be better if it still had Ware? He has seven sacks in six games. The Cowboys have seven sacks as a team in seven games. You draw the conclusion.

But the economics of the league forced the Cowboys to make a decision in the offseason after Ware suffered through a career-low six sacks in part because of injuries.

The Cowboys had a chance to see Ware -- if not play against him -- in the preseason finale at AT&T Stadium.

Could they see him again at University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015?

Could Jones have even have imagined that back in August?

The Film Don't Lie: Cowboys

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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A weekly look at what the Dallas Cowboys must fix:

DeMarco Murray leads the NFL in rushing with 913 yards on 187 carries. No other running back in NFL history has opened the season with seven straight 100-yard games. He should be in any MVP talk as the Cowboys head into Monday night's matchup against the Washington Redskins.

He is doing it when defenses know the Cowboys want to run the ball.

Despite defenses loading the box to stop the run, the Cowboys have run the ball surprisingly well. It has led to more “dirty” yards, as Jason Garrett has called runs of 0, 1, 2 or 3 yards. After averaging at least 5.4 yards per carry in three of the first four games, Murray has put up at least 4 yards per carry in the past three games. The ability to get chunks of yards has changed from otherworldly -- Murray had 17 runs of at least 10 yards or more in the first four games -- to a still respectable 10 in the past three games.

There will come a time when the Cowboys will have to rely more on their adjustments to the eight-man fronts they are seeing through scheme or passing the ball early in games to free Murray up as the game goes on. The Cowboys countered some of that against the New York Giants with more three-tight-end sets knowing the versatility of tight ends Jason Witten, James Hanna and Gavin Escobar allows them to run and throw the ball.

The Cowboys don’t really need to “fix” much about what they’re doing offensively, but they need to stay ahead of the game for the times when the running game does not succeed.

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