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Despite Doug Martin’s setback, Bucs need to run more consistently

The Tampa Bay Bucs had hoped to have running back Doug Martin back after their bye week. Evidently, it is not going to happen.

“Doug, unfortunately, did suffer a setback a week ago Sunday and we’ll just have to see when he can make it back,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “There’s no timetable on that right now, again, that’s not my department. There will be an injury report, but Doug did suffer a little setback. And just that whole thing on injures, nobody’s at fault when somebody gets hurt.

“Injuries are the worst part of this game on all teams. Just look around the league. A lot of teams have injuries and we don’t like it, but trust me, no one feels worse about it than the player. The player feels bad and injuries make it tough on our team, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we’ve got to keep rolling.”

Martin, who was second in the NFL in rushing a season ago, has been missed. The Bucs have struggled in most games to find a balance. Against Carolina, Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 101 yards.Does that mean the Bucs are fixed? That’s hard to say, but the team should be able to run some against the 49ers.

“If it was that easy, it’d be fixed,” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “If it was that easy and it was just one thing (it would be fixed.) I thought we took a step forward Monday night, in terms of our physicality, in terms of the way our running backs ran the ball. Realistically, it was similar to some of the games last year, we just didn’t have any longer runs.

I think that was probably the biggest thing is, we’ve got to continue to do a great job on the perimeter blocking, we’ve got to continue to find a way to finish runs. You’re only going to rush for the 150-yard mark if you get a couple explosive runs, which we didn’t get some of those. But I do think it was a good sign and we need to continue to play complementary football and run the ball and run the ball efficiently.”

Monken admitted the Bucs need to commit to running the ball more.

“Sure, I think that’s part of it,” Monken said. “I think the score dictates that. I think it’s easier to run the football when the game dictates that, but I think it’s also just that that’s who we have to be, that’s who you should be. You have to be able to run the football to win and that allows us to get our explosives down the field when we can run the football.”

Koetter said the Bucs need more consistency.

“If it was that easy to just snap our fingers and do it, we would certainly be doing it,” Koetter said. “I’ve said many times, your run game gets better if you run it more. Alright Coach, well run it more – hell, I’m calling the plays. You’ve got to make yards, you’ve got to have efficient runs and you’ve got to be moving the chains.

“If you’re doing that and you’re running it more and you’re repeating runs, your line and your backs both have a tendency to get stronger as you go. But if you’re going three and out, if it’s first-and-10, second-and-nine, third-and-eight, punt and then you fall behind in the scoreboard, it’s hard to keep running it. That’s just a reality.”

Bucs’ Dirk Koetter disagrees with Jon Gruden on play call

The current coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs said that a third-and-run had nothing to do with a lack of confidence in quarterback Jameis Winston, no matter what a former coach of the Bucs says.

The call, which came late in the game as the Bucs beat the Carolina Panthers, 17-14, was part of the Bucs’ conservative game-plan. Coach Dirk Koetter said it had nothing to with Winston, although former coach Jon Gruden disagreed.

“That wasn’t a lack of confidence,” Koetter said. “Again, when analysts say stuff like that, that’s like – when Jon (Gruden) was coaching and someone said that about him, you know what he’d be standing up here saying? ‘That guy doesn’t know what I’m thinking or anything about my team.’

“He gets paid to talk on T.V. I get paid to coach the Bucs. Those guys can say whatever they want. Yeah, we ran it on third-and-nine. You know what? We also ran it on third-and-three and third-and-five and we were two out of three running the ball on third down and we weren’t nearly that successful throwing the ball. It had no reflection at all on my confidence in Winston. There can be no person on this planet, other than his parents, that’s more confident in Winston than me.”

Koetter was pleased a day after the victory, which improved Tampa Bay to 2-3 on the season.

The Bucs won with their third running back (Jacquizz Rodgers) gaining 101 yards and three of the defensive front four not starting.

Koetter point to two plays by Brent Grimes: His end-zone interception, and the play before, when he made a tackle at the one yard line. He was also pleased with the play of the defensive line.

“Our defense in general, holding them to 1-8 on third down conversions,” Koetter said. “Those two free agent rookie D-linemen – the D-line, even though we weren’t able to generate much pressure, those guys fought hard, they competed hard. (DaVonte) Lambert, what a nice play on the scramble that (Carolina quarterback) Derek Anderson had. It looked like he might make the first down and ironically enough, it was Lambert that made the hit and it was Gholston, who was dropping on that coverage, hustling over to get the fumble recovery. So just really proud of those guys and the way they competed.”

The Bucs have a bye week this week. Because of the health of his team, Koetter thought this was a perfect time for it.

“It probably couldn’t be at a better time for us,” Koetter said. “The momentum factor is one thing, but we have a chance to get several key members of our team back. So the players have five days off, starting tomorrow. We’ll work out on Monday, then they’ll have another day off and then a week a week from Wednesday, we’ll zero in on San Francisco game planning. So six of the next seven days off, got a nice opportunity to get healthy.”

Roberto Aguayo hits game-winning field goal for Bucs on Monday Night

Perhaps you think it should matter that Carolina was without star Cam Newton. It doesn’t.

Perhaps you think it should matter that the Panthers are off to a simply dreadful start. It doesn’t.

Perhaps you think it should matter that Roberto Aguayo missed two field goals before nailing the winner. It doesn’t.

For the Tampa Bay Bucs, 2-0 in their division, there isn’t a lot of taking away from their 17-14 victory over the Carolina Panthers Monday night. With their third-team running back in the game — Jacquizz Rodgers, who rushed for 101 yards — and three strangers on their defensive line, the Bucs finally won a game that felt like it mattered.

Aguayo hit a 38-yard field goal as time ran out to provide the win. Earlier, however, the Bucs had run the ball on third-and-nine to set up another Aguayo field goal, and he missed.

“Our defense was awesome all night,” said coach Dirk Koetter. “Four turnovers off the defense, one off special teams, holding Carolina to one-for-eight on third downs, our D played a heck of a game. First half we did an awesome job stopping the run, we fell off a little bit there in the second half but a lot of guys came up big tonight and it started obviously with our defense.”

Koetter was asked how close Aguayo had to get for him to feel comfortable.

“I wasn’t comfortable,” Koetter said. “We couldn’t have got close enough.

“I am happy that he made it and that is awesome that he made it, but we can’t miss those field goals. What do you want me to say? We can’t miss those. That could have lost us the game; I’m happy that he made the other one.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston said he still believed in his friend.

“When y’all talk about struggles,” Winston said, “all I see is him kicking the game-winning field goal. Struggling, I don’t hear that. I don’t hear negatives. I just hear Roberto Aguayo kicking the game-winning field goal.

The Bucs improved to 2-3 with the win. They now have a bye week before traveling to San Francisco to play.

“It’s huge,” receiver Mike Evans said of the win. “For a lot of us, it was our first Monday Night game. We prepare for moments like this and it was big for us to get the win against a division opponent that we haven’t beaten in such a long time. I think this game will boost a lot of people’s confidence.”

Do Bucs have to learn to live with Jameis Winston’s mistakes?

Is Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Tampa Bay Bucs, a gunslinger? Are interceptions something the Bucs are going to have to learn to live with?

Winston, so far, has thrown eight interceptions in four weeks. He got off to a similar start last season with seven.

“I don’t know if you ever want to accept it, but I do think that that’s something to build around,” said Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “I’ve always believed that guys that are smart, competitive, an unbelievable will to win, I think that’s something to build around and something we should build around. And then keep continuing to play better around him, shrink our mistakes, and we’ll take off.”

Winston said the challenge was to take better care of the football, beginning with Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

“You’ve just got to take care of the football. Nothing is really different,” Winston said. “I’m going to be the quarterback that I think I need to be to win games here and one part of that is just protecting the football. I have to be better at doing that.

“Like I always say, I get better every single day. This is not the end of the world, but we do know that we need to start protecting the football and that’s on me.”

 Winston said he’s a better quarterback in his second season.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot from my first year to my second year,” Winston said. “I just have to protect the football — that’s the main thing. Just put us in better situations to win football games.”

Monken said he didn’t want to take the ball out of Winston’s hands.

“I don’t think that’s what we want to do,” Monken said. “I think what we’ve got to do is do it better. It was only three weeks ago he was the NFC Player of the Week. It’s week-to-week, one week it’s this, it’s just is what it is. He’s a really good football player and we’ve got to play better around him, he’s got to take care of the football, we’ve got to run the ball better. That’s really what you’ve got to do and we’ve got to continue to do the things that we need to do to be successful and not turn it over, that’s really it. If it was that simple, we’d have it fixed.”

A lot of young quarterbacks have problems with interceptions, Monken said.

“If you take the full body of work — have there been some bad decisions?” Monken said. “Yes, but the very first interception of the year, we run the wrong route. Here against the Rams, the ball gets in Chuck’s (running back Charles Sims III’s) hands and it bounces in someone’s hands. One of the interceptions at Arizona, it was the last play of the game. Does that matter? No, he’s throwing it in the end zone. So sure, we have to be better, collectively as a staff to not put him in those situations, because one things he’s going to do is compete.

“But I knew this was going to come up and I just want to — if you talked about, and I mean this, the three quarterbacks in our division, their first two years [as a starter]: (Carolina quarterback) Cam Newton, 40 (touchdowns) and 29 (interceptions). (New Orleans quarterback) Drew Brees, 28 and 31. (Atlanta quarterback) Matt Ryan, 38 and 25. That’s their first two years in this league, three pretty good quarterbacks. One that’s an MVP, one that’s been doing it for years and Ryan, (the Falcons) are leading the NFL in yards. (Former NFL quarterback) Peyton Manning, 52 and 43. (Former NFL quarterback) Brett Favre, 37 and (37). (Former NFL quarterback) John Elway, 25 and 29, it happens. As they develop, touchdown-to-interception ratio, it happens.

“Now, am I completely comparing him to them? No, all I’m saying is, I love that kid. You talk about a competitive spirit and a will to want to compete and make every play; that’s who you want to build your team around. Is he there yet? No. Are we there yet, collectively? No, but you’d rather have to try to reel a guy back in than try to develop some sort of toughness or will to win in competitive spirit. That’s what we have at quarterback and we need to embrace that and continue to mold that and develop that. That’s coaching, that’s playing, that’s run the football better and him taking care of it better.”

So far, Winston has been hit 39 times. That’s far too many.

“We’ve said it earlier, we’ve got to be able to run the ball better,” Monken said. “We’ve got to be more precise in the way we run routes and come open quicker and I’m sure there’s some of those things he can be better at. So collectively, we’ve got to do a better job of that. Like you said, nothing’s good when you get your quarterback hit that often, but we’re ready to move on, we’re ready for the Panthers on Monday night, and we’re expecting their best — and they’re certainly going to get ours.”

Bucs think rookie Vernon Hargreaves III is showing progress

One month into his career, Tampa Bay Bucs rookie Vernon Hargreaves has played decently. But so far, he hasn’t made a major impact in the Bucs’ secondary.

That might change Monday night, when the Bucs play the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers and their big receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olson.

Hargreaves played last week on the outside for the Bucs rather than divide time.

“I think he likes it better, where he’s not moving in and out,” Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter said. “But every player that plays multiple positions – we have receivers that do that – they’ve got to do what’s best for the team and that’s sometimes based on the other guys that you have available. We’re fortunate right now, we’re heavy in the secondary, heavy with guys. We’re really light in some other areas, just on numbers.”

Opponents haven’t thrown a lot at Hargreaves, Koetter said.

“He did fine,” Koetter said. “You’re not giving a whole lot of A’s when you get beat by three touchdowns on anybody. But he played fine. They weren’t throwing a ton of balls out there. We had a couple plays where we were too loose in the secondary. When we had pressures on, we were playing zone coverage. I actually talked to Vernon during the game about, ‘You’ve got to trust yourself, get up in there. Those are great receivers that Denver had, but heck, that’s why you’re here. Get up there and challenge them a little bit.’ And I think that’ll come with time.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Hargreaves, like many of the Bucs, needs to be more aggressive.

“I think we have to be a more aggressive team, not only in the play calling, but we’ve got to be aggressive in our mindset and be aware of where we are on the field, what the down and distance is and I think as a young player, sometimes you get overwhelmed as the game goes on,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be focused on what we’re defending, what we’re defending and there’s the right time to be aggressive and then there’s the right time to sit back and make sure that we are going to let them throw it in front of us.

“There was a couple of times that we were probably too aggressive and we missed some tackles, but overall I think as a unit we need to be more in-tune to when we can be aggressive and challenge. That’s the most important thing for us in the secondary right now.”

Smith said he was confident that Hargreaves can play outside.

“There’s no doubt that he can handle it,” Smith said. “He’s been put in a tougher situation when we’ve asked him to play inside because he’s so used to being the outside corner, that’s where he’s played the majority of his time there at the University of Florida. He’s got the skill set to be able to go inside and outside and again, as I think we progress and grow as a defensive football team, it’s going to give us some flexibility. We are not as flexible as we’d like to be, we’ve not gone on and advanced quite as well as I would’ve like and again, I’m learning these guys, they’re learning me and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do on Monday night.”

One month in, Jameis Winston’s turnover woes have returned

The more Jameis Winston of the Tampa Bay Bucs has thrown the football this season, the more doubts have resurfaced.

In four games this season, Winston has thrown eight interceptions. A year ago, he threw seven in his first four games.

“Oh yeah, it needs to be discussed,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “I have not talked to Jameis today, I’m sure I will here at some point, but it definitely needs to be discussed. And Jameis has always been fantastic about that in his time here, as far as after he sees the tape and Jameis is always hardest on himself, his own worst critic, and I’m sure he already knows that.

“Some of that depends on who your next opponent is and what kind of defense they play. Do we need to commit more guys to protection so he has a cleaner pocket? And at times yesterday we did have a clean pocket. Do we need to get more guys out into the route, so he does have check-downs available? And at times that is there. At that position, taking care of the football is No. 1 priority and, like I said, I thought we were past this and I was confident we were past this, but we’re struggling with it right now and we’ve got to fix it.”

Some of the reason for Winston’s turnovers has been over-reliance on him. With running back Doug Martin out, Charles Sims has struggled. Sunday, he carried it 15 times for only 28 yards.

“Enough been made of it and making excuses, there’s a fine line there,” Koetter said. “It is a true statement that we’re not running the ball efficiently enough. Our numbers, our balance was better in the first half yesterday, I think it was 21-20. But the efficiency wasn’t there, we still had too many one-yard runs. That’s not always on the running back, there’s different reasons for that. But when we’re not being productive in the run game, we’re having to rely too much on our pass game, I think there is something to that.”

Koetter said part of the problem is Winston’s competitive nature.

“I think the real trick is, Jameis is such a competitive guy and Jameis always tries to — it’s a positive trait that he has — he’s always trying to make a play when sometimes there’s no play to be made,” Koetter said. “Sometimes that’s throwing the ball when he doesn’t need to, sometimes that’s trying to keep a scramble alive too long and taking an unnecessary hit.”

The Bucs travel to Carolina this weekend for a Monday night game against the Panthers.

Bucs show how short of the Super Bowl champs they are

So how much difference is there between the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Well, it turns out, a lot.

Like 20 points.

Like 98 yards.

Like three turnovers.

Like a 4-0 start against a 1-3 start.

Like an efficient quarterback (and backup) with a 141.7 rating against a scatter-armed one who had a 40.1.

Like that.

The Broncos took an easy 27-7 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday, breaking a 7-7 tie in the first period with 20 straight points. Denver played despite losing quarterback Travis Simian to a shoulder injury; rookie Paxton Lynch finished up the victory.

Winston threw two interceptions (both to ex-Buc Aqib Talib) early, and starting tailback Charles Sims carried 15 times for only 28 yards. On a key third and one, Sims was stopped cold, then tried to lateral to Winston for a fumble.

In four games, Winston has thrown eight interceptions.

In his first four games a year ago, he had seven.

With 7 ½ minutes to play, Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter elected to punt on fourth-and-six from the Denver 46.

“I don’t know what you were watching to think we’d make seven yards,” Koetter said. “Not when we didn’t make it on third-and-seven.”

The Broncos, who beat Carolina in last year’s Super Bowl, sacked Winston five times in the game.

Will the Bucs’ Mike Evans match up against Aqib Talib?

Sunday’s anticipated matchup between the old (Aqib Talib) and the new (Mike Evans) might not happen, says Tampa Bay Bucs coach Dirk Koetter.

The Denver Broncos may prefer Chris Harris to cover Evans.

“We’ve talked about the matchup with Talib,” Koetter said. “But Harris is a really good corner too. They’ve both been to the Pro Bowl the last couple of years, and I’m not sure if Denver’s going to match [Evans with Talib]. Usually, Denver just plays sides, so if they match, then I guess that’s a show of respect that they think Mike’s good enough to match, but for all we know, Denver may look at it as Harris is better than Talib, I don’t know how they look at it.”

“I think they think that they have three starting-level corners, (Bradley) Roby when they go into their subgroup as well. Now as far as Mike’s concerned, he’s going to play against really good corners every single week. When you’re the No.1 receiver, that’s what you get. As we said earlier in the week, we couldn’t be happier with how Mike’s competed, how Mike’s held up from a conditioning standpoint, pushed through some minor injury things and caught the ball in traffic. I think Mike has the mindset he’s going out there to compete and I’m sure the Denver guys do as well.”

A year ago, corners were able to prod Evans into emotional displays that led to penalties. Koetter said he isn’t worried anymore.

“Mike has really made it a point of emphasis,” Koetter said. “He’s had a couple chances, whether you call it lose his cool or frustration, I think Mike’s really turned a corner. I’m not going to say it’s never going to happen again because, shoot, all of us have our meltdowns from time to time. But I think Mike’s turned a corner.”

Koetter said the Broncos kept to a simple defense that challenged the offense to beat them.

“There’s other teams that are harder to figure out, but Denver really doesn’t have to be that hard to figure out,” Koetter said. “They want to say, ‘We’ve got good rushers, let’s see you block us.’ The one thing that’s a little unique is when they go in that dime (package, they play (number) 43, (safety T.J.) Ward, kind of like a linebacker and he’s really is their No. 1 blitzer — and he’s good at it, he’s slippery. But when they get a lead on you — it’s kind of like in the old days when I was in Jacksonville and when Peyton Manning was the quarterback of the Colts. They get the lead and they had those two great ends and they just say, ‘Let’s see if you can block us.’ ”

Game time Sunday is 4:05 p.m.

Tampa Bay’s defense is off to a slow start after three games

No one in the National Football League has given up more points in three games than the Tampa Bay Bucs.

And guess what? Here come the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

The Bucs are the only team that has given up more than 100 points (101) through three games. The Bucs are giving up 370 yards a game, 19th in the league.

“I think we’re dead average, to be quite frank,” said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “We’re not rushing the quarterback near at the level that we need to. It doesn’t matter who’s out there, it doesn’t matter how many guys are not there, we’ve got to go out and put pressure on the quarterback. And it’s not going to be just one guy, it’s going to be an effort by the entire line and it’s going to be what the secondary is doing as well. If we’re in phase and with them in the coverage, then we’re going to have an opportunity for the quarterback to hold the ball a little bit longer. Last week, with the way that they presented their formations, they had overhang tight ends, they were going to block, there was a lot of seven-man protections and when you’re rushing four and they’re protecting with seven, it’s going to be tough to get there because they’re going to be doubling three and one guy’s got a one-on-one.”

There had been some optimism early about the Bucs, who added a free agent and a draft pick to both the line and the secondary. But the Bucs are giving up too many big plays along the way.

“We’re making strides, but we’re making big time mistakes and that includes me. I’ve got to do a better job,” Smith said. “I would love to have a couple plays back through these first three games, I’d love to see some technique played differently, but that’s the process that we go through. And it is a process and ultimately, we’re going to be judged – in this league you get judged week-to-week, there’s no doubt about it. You’re up and down, week-to-week.”

So far, the Bucs gave up 40 to Arizona, which hasn’t beaten anyone else. They gave up 37 to the Rams, who scored only nine points in their first two games.

“I think we’re a lot closer than we are away from it, I can assure you that,” Smith said. “And really there’s one guy to me that’s got to do a better job and that’s Mike Smith. He’s the guy that’s got to make sure that these guys understand what we’re trying to get accomplished, what we’re trying to get done. It’s never as bad – one thing I’ve found in this league is when you have a loss, it’s never as bad and when you have a win, it’s never as good. When you shut somebody out, you think it’s great and then you watch the tape and you’re going, ‘Holy cow, we missed fit, four things, if they would’ve seen this.’ So it’s a group effort, everybody’s contributed to it. But I don’t want to start talking about where we’re having problems. We’re having problems with Coach Mike Smith and he’s the guy that’s responsible for it.”

Nose tackle Gerald McCoy said the slow start is understandable.

“Guys just really need to trust in each other,” McCoy said. “It’s a new defense, you’re trying to get it down yourself and you’re trying to learn the ins and outs of what you can and can’t do, what you can and can’t get away with. If you miss doing that, you’re putting your teammate at risk and you’re hurting yourself by doing that. I think guys just got antsy last week, trying to make a play instead of doing the things it takes to make a play, which is just do your job.”

So far, Denver is 3-0, but their offense is tied for 21st in the league.

Game time is 4:05 p.m. at Raymond James.

Former Buc Aqib Talib returns to Tampa Bay with Broncos

When the Tampa Bay Bucs take the field against the World Champion Denver Broncos Sunday, a familiar face will be waiting.

Aqib Talib is coming back to town.

Talib, who was a troubled player when he was with the Bucs, is a starting corner for Denver and one of the mainstays of their secondary. He was released by the Bucs, rediscovered himself in New England, and has played well in Denver.

“At the line of scrimmage, he’s so physical,” Bucs receiver Mike Evans said. “He’s a lot like (Arizona cornerback) Patrick Peterson at the line, both really physical. I don’t think he runs as good as ‘Pat P,’ but he’s just as physical at the line of scrimmage. I’m going to try and be the most physical receiver in the league, and I’ve got to prove it by going out and dominating physical cornerbacks.”

Talib is looking forward to his return.

“This will be my first time back in Tampa since selling my house — since really leaving,” Talib said. “I got traded — of course I came back the year that I got traded, I was back and forth. But this will definitely be my first time back in Tampa since leaving.

“The biggest thing that’s changed is that I’m 30 years old now. I’m a lot older, a lot more mature, a lot more professional, I would say. It’s simply football with me, and now I’m married. So I’d say that’s the biggest thing. The biggest difference is I’m a lot older.”

The Bucs will surely test Talib. After all, quarterback Jameis Winston is throwing the ball more than 47 times per game.

“To start off, in the last two games we’ve thrown too much,” said Bucs coach Dirk Koetter. “We’ve got to quit getting behind by two scores, and we need to run the ball better and when I say run it better — I’ve told you guys this many times, we’ve got to run it more. The more you run it, the better you get with repeat runs. Now as far as Jameis handling volume, heck, I’m sure he’d throw every time if he could. But for our team to be successful, we can’t be throwing in the 50s, and we can’t be running in the 20s.”

Koetter wasn’t here when Talib was. Still, he is aware of Talib’s skills.

“He’s long, he’s fast, he’s tough, and he’s got great ball skills. Denver is a team that is blessed with a plethora of good cover corners; they are loaded,” Koetter said. “They’re one of the best coverage teams — they play dime when they sub, they don’t have a nickel package, they have a dime package where they put six (defensive backs) on the field at one time, and they have some really good pass rushers up front. But as far a combination of six [defensive backs] on the field at one time, in my 10 years in the NFL I’m not sure, No. 1 through No. 6, I’ve seen a better group. Usually when you’ve got six defensive backs out there, two or three of them you’re going, ‘We can really pick on that guy,’ but these guys are good, and I think Talib is exceptional.”

 While the Bucs will be aware of Talib, they can’t totally stay away from him.

“You can’t just totally stay away from him,” Koetter said. “You can move your guys, try to stack them, give them different splits, move your guys in motion, get them in the slot. There’s a lot of things you can do, but there are other instances where we do try to avoid certain guys.”

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