NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas -- Orlando Scandrick was disappointed when New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz was lost for the season because of a knee injury and could not play last week against the Dallas Cowboys.

Scandrick wants to compete against the best. On ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” this week, Scandrick will get the chance to compete against a longtime NFC East foe, DeSean Jackson, who is in his first season with the Washington Redskins.

In 10 career games against the Cowboys, Jackson has 35 catches for 663 yards but just one touchdown.

After missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension, Scandrick has solidified the Cowboys’ secondary. He has an interception and four pass breakups, playing equally as well in the slot as outside.

“O can really cover now,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s good at man to man. He’s a good zone player. He’s just to me really emerging. He’s a terrific tackler, great instincts and he’s good inside. You just see him growing and growing as a player.”

Scandrick came to the Cowboys with a chip on his shoulder as a fifth-round pick in 2008. He outlasted 2008 first-rounder Mike Jenkins and beat out 2012 first-rounder Morris Claiborne. The edginess Scandrick had when he showed up has not dissipated.

“He is a physical player,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He is aware. He is instinctive. He seems to be around the ball a lot. I just think he's gotten better and better. He has a lot of confidence defending inside and outside. He's got a lot of athletic ability. He is long. He's quick. Again, his instincts for the game are probably his best trait.”
IRVING, Texas -- Monday's game against the Washington Redskins will be the fifth time the Dallas Cowboys have seen a 3-4 defense.

While DeMarco Murray has run well regardless of the defensive front he has seen this season, he has had incredible success against 3-4 schemes.

Against the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans, Murray has 106 carries for 570 yards.

"There are some similarities but the players are different, the scheme is always different," Murray said. "We've had a lot of 3-4 teams this year so we're used to it. A lot of our previous games we've had some success against but it's definitely hard to go against. They have some great players on the other side. We'll have our hands full and we're excited about the challenge."

Not all 3-4 defenses are created equal. Coach Jason Garrett said the key is to trace the roots of Jim Haslett's defense. Like a lot of 3-4 schemes, it goes back to Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. So too does the 3-4 San Francisco used as well as the 3-4 the Titans used, but the Redskins defense is more like the Titans in how defenders move around.

"The way they play their techniques up front are similar to what we've seen at different points this year and certainly similar to what we've seen from them in the past," Garrett said. "They're not all the same. I think you have to understand what the nuances are and attack it with that knowledge."

Past success can often predict future success, but center Travis Frederick does not look at it that way.

"It gives us something to look back at and get better and improve upon, but you're starting from zero every game," Frederick said. "Every game is different and every team is different."
IRVING, Texas – Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray deflects questions about the amount of work he has received this season like defenders.

He doesn’t much care that he is 31 carries away from the most he has had in a season and that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins is just the eighth game of the season. He says his body feels good.

Part of it has to do with what he did in the offseason. Starting in March, before the official beginning of the Cowboys’ offseason program, Murray became Jason Witten’s workout partner. For the next two months they were together at Valley Ranch for hours, running, lifting and sweating.

“It helped a lot, obviously with the stamina aspect just building a good armor for your body so you can take some hits and take the pounding of a long season,” Murray said. “He's done it for a long time and he's someone who has had a lot of success in this league and he knows what to do to take care of your body in season and out of season, so it helped extremely a lot and I have to thank him and we're still working together.”

Witten has missed one game in his career. Witten has played in 178 straight games, the longest active streak for a position player.

“I just asked him one day,” Witten said. “Don’t remember exactly how it went down, but we’re going to work out together.”

In every way, Witten is the conscience of the Cowboys. He is their leader. Murray called him “the big dog.”

“I couldn’t say no,” Murray said.

No player has caught more passes as a Cowboy than Witten. He has played in nine Pro Bowls. Not only does he not miss games, he does not miss practices, either.

Murray has missed 11 games in his first three seasons with ankle, foot and knee injuries. He missed a day of practice last week because he was ill. He sprained an ankle in the second quarter of last week’s victory against the New York Giants but finished the game with 128 yards on 28 carries.

Witten turned 32 in May, in the middle of the offseason. Murray is 26.

“I knew it was good for me to be with a young guy that can push you,” Witten said. “Obviously he’s physically talented. I kind of known that was the way our team was going and what we were trying to mold ourselves into. Even since he’s been a rookie, he’s always kind of latched on to certain people and asked questions, eager to learn. The thing I like about him since an early age was you could always see that he wanted to be really, really good. He had a great offseason. There were many days where I was really sore and we’d come in and say, ‘Are you sore?’ And he’d tell me, ‘Nah, not really. What about you?’ ‘Nah, I feel all right.’ He’s everything you want in a teammate from that standpoint. It was good to work out with him that way because I kept telling him, November and December this will pay off for us, the work that we put in. You can see it in the way he’s playing.”

Witten is not taking credit for Murray’s season by any stretch, but Murray believes the workouts have made a difference.

Said Murray, “Whenever you talk to a guy like that that's had the success like that and played so long in this league and done some of the things he’s done, you definitely try to take as much information as you possibly can from him.”
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ health keeps improving.

With quarterback Tony Romo returning to practice after sitting Thursday’s workout, only right tackle Doug Free and defensive end Jack Crawford were missing from practice.

Free is expected to miss two more games with a small fracture in his right foot. Crawford has been battling a strained calf for the last two weeks. Safety Jakar Hamilton returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday’s session to tend to a personal matter.

Linebacker Bruce Carter is practicing for the second straight day, as is defensive end Anthony Spencer, who is looking to practice all three days leading up to a game for the first time this season.

Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence is eligible to return Nov. 2 against the Arizona Cardinals and has looked good in practice since he returned last week from a broken foot. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, who started the year on the non-football injury list, is practicing for the second straight day. The Cowboys have until the Nov. 16 bye week to activate him to the 53-man roster, keep him on the non-football injury list or release him.

The Cowboys are keeping a close eye on Okoye, who is attempting a comeback from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a brain disease that left him in a coma in 2013.

“We’ve certainly got our arms around where he came from and we’ve been very judicious in bringing him back,” Garrett said. “He’s worked very hard to get back. He was a good player when he was playing before and we want to get him back to that level, but it was a good start for him, good to see him in a uniform, moving around as a football player. He’s worked very hard on the side to get himself there and we’ll monitor his progress and see how he’s doing.”
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 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?


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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.

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.

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
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 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 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.

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."



Sunday, 10/26
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