Over Reaction Sunday, Browns Edition

What went wrong in New England and where the Browns go from here.

Whew. Alright Browns fans, take another deep breath. It is needed.

Now that a few days have passed to calm down, it’s time to look at what is real, what is an aberration, and what should be expected going forward this season. First off, let’s dive back into the 45-7 drubbing New England gave Cleveland.

A Complete Team Beatdown

Since returning in 1999, the Browns have suffered their fair share of blowout losses. Whether it be the opening 43-0 loss to the Steelers in 1999, the 41-0 Christmas Eve loss to the Steelers in 2005, the 31-0 loss to the Steelers in 2008, the 30-0 loss to the Bengals in 2014, the 38-7 loss to the Steelers last ye…yeah, you probably get it. Anyway, the expansion-Browns have lost big many times. The loss to the Patriots last Sunday has a case for being not just one of, but the worst since the franchise’s rebirth. Cleveland’s DVOA was -114 percent, one of the worst single-game performances by any team this season. They were out-coached, out-played, and out-classed.

Lack of Defense

If the pitchforks weren’t out in Cleveland for Joe Woods job, they are now. The Browns defense was thoroughly manhandled in every aspect. The Patriots offense largely neutralized the Browns front seven. Myles Garrett played well. It just didn’t matter. Every pass play, Garrett was chipped or double-teamed while Jones got the ball out quickly. When the Patriots ran, they simply ran to whatever side #95 wasn’t on. The rest of the defensive line was almost a non-factor. The Patriots offensive line mauled Cleveland opening massive lanes for their backs to run through. Three starters on the offensive line had PFF run-blocking grades over 80. Rhamondre Stevenson finished runs carrying Browns defenders. Tackling was atrocious across the board.

As for coverage, there was no coverage. Patriot receivers were schemed open and ran free. Woods D had no answers and made no adjustments. Greg Newsome looked like a rookie, Denzel Ward was far from his elite self, John Johnson fell back to earth after a good two-game stretch, Ronnie Harrison was his typical liability-in-coverage self, and Troy Hill is likely still on the turf after a piss-poor tackling attempt on the Jacoby Meyers Touchdown. Myles put it best in his post-game comments: “We never had a chance just because we didn’t make any adjustments on the sideline or when we had time to.” Yikes.

Offensive Offense

Ask anyone on the Cleveland coaching staff and they will all tell you the same thing: the Browns want to run the ball and play-action pass off of it. You wouldn’t guess that if you watched this team for the first time this weekend. Baker Mayfield dropped back 23 times. Only two of those dropbacks were off play-action and both were on the first drive. Nearly every quarterback benefits from play-action and few benefit as much as Mayfield does. Mayfield has a 75 passing grade off play-action and a 67 grade on straight dropbacks this season. Obviously, teams will play-action pass less in obvious passing situations, but that does not excuse an outright abandonment of it. Expect a drastic change next week vs Detroit.

The Browns offensive identity is based around their offensive line. Outside of the first drive, the Patriots defensive line dominated. Wyatt Teller looked like a replacement guard and Jedrick Wills looked dreadful, again. Blake Hance is not a starter in this league and played like it. Jack Conklin cannot return soon enough. On a positive note, Joel Bitonio was the only Browns offensive player who graded higher than a 73 (80.0). The Browns cannot be a dominant run team if they cannot block.

Speaking of the run game, D’ernest Johnson ran efficiently. As the blocking wilted with each quarter and holes closed up, Johnson finished runs well and showed patience. There just wasn’t anything to be had in yardage production.

Baker.

This game was one of the worst, if not the worst, games of Mayfield’s career. A sizeable portion of the blame lies squarely at Baker’s feet. Mayfield consistently missed receivers and made poor decisions. Browns receivers did him few favors. The preseason glean of Donovan Peoples-Jones has completely worn off. DPJ struggles to get any separation from corners. His biggest plays are coverage busts (ex. at Titans 2020, last week at Bengals). That isn’t sustainable. The clock is quickly running out on his chances to be a starting receiver. David Njoku dropped a sure touchdown that nearly cost the Browns their only points of the day.

The Turning Point

Mayfield’s interception early in the second quarter was a dreadful decision. Mayfield cannot throw that ball. However, the decision isn’t entirely Mayfield’s fault. Stefanski called a flood passing concept. This concept attacks cover-3. Njoku is the slot receiver running a deep out while Peoples-Jones is out wide running a go route.

The idea is that the outside receiver clears out the corner dropping to the deep zone, allowing for the slot receiver, the primary read, to find a hole in the zone 7-10 yards downfield near the sideline. Jalen Mills jams DPJ off the line, causing him to be too shallow when the ball is supposed to come out. Njoku runs a terrible route, rounding his break and allowing Kyle Duggar to jump the route. Njoku is taken out of the play by Mills, the corner who was supposed to have been cleared from the zone by DPJ. Duggar easily intercepts the pass and returns it from a touchdown.

The Browns passing offense lives off timing. On that play, the Patriots defense throws off the timing immediately. Mayfield has to know better than to throw that ball while Njoku and Peoples-Jones need to run better routes. That play was the epitome of the Browns entire game.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

Browns fans may need the Aaron Rodgers treatment after this game.

R-E-L-A-X

in 2020, everything bounced right for Cleveland. They won close games and stayed mostly healthy, overachieving relative to their 11-5 record. The variance that went their way last season isn’t this season. This is to be expected, to a degree. They have dropped a few close games this year and are suffering from injuries, especially on the offensive line. Because of this, their offense has been less efficient in the run game. All signs pointed towards this being a 9-10 win (of 17 games) this season. at 5-5, they remain on pace for that. The Patriots loss can be chalked up to a combination of a bad matchup and poor play.

While the Browns maintain the status quo, pencil them in for a couple of blowouts per year. Last year was Pittsburgh and Baltimore. This year is Arizona and New England. The blueprint is the same. Build a quick lead, put Cleveland in a pass-first situation, and wait for Mayfield and Co to struggle. They cannot play from behind. This doesn’t mean this team cannot win. building a quick lead on them is not easy. Every team has a weakness. The Browns are no exception.

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Odell Beckham Jr. Addition Pushes Patriots Deep Into Playoff Discussion

When the story of Odell Beckham Jr. first surfaced nearing the trade deadline, the name Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots immediately began to surface in connection. The immediate reaction was: “Please, not again. We’re tired of this rumor”. As this would not mark the first time a potential link between the Patriots and OBJ has been brought up. Yet, this time around, Beckham is subject to waivers, not a mere trade target to appease Tom Brady. 

The situation presents itself a little differently. New England will likely be looking for that one last playmaker to differentiate their 4-4 offense. Making the possibility of this deal actually happening seem a little bit more real. Leading one to imagine, what the offense would look like, how Beckham could function in the offense, what he could add to it, and whether his addition, at likely a restructured salary, would be worth it. 

The waiver wire process, Patriots’ chances

Of course, Beckham is going through the waiver wire, where the Patriots stand middle of the pack at 15th. There are a few teams in front of New England, posing as threats to snatch him off the wire. Most would likely have more money to do so. As the Patriots sit with their estimated $2.5 million in cap space. However, something to anticipate is the mere fact that some of the under .500 teams would have to consider between surrendering draft pick value for a season that seemingly cannot be salvaged, and the value of bringing in Beckham, who could potentially become disgruntled in a losing environment. That is especially if the quarterback situation is less than optimal. Leaving many contenders, looking for that last push over the hump, the most likely candidates for his service. 

Many of whom also have limited cap space to absorb Beckham’s large remaining salary of $7.5 million for the nine remaining weeks of the regular season. In fact, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, there are only nine teams that can afford to claim Beckham without maneuvering any other money around. Many of those teams have reasonable questions regarding their competitiveness around the league, and or their quarterback situation. Leaving many to question if Beckham will get claimed off waivers at all. 

A lot still has to play out, yes. However, one thing to count on, if Beckham does in fact hit the open market, New England will be interested in some form. Beckham will share at least somewhat similar interest. The rest of the story is yet to unfold. 

With much speculation and possibility in the air, let’s try to address how he can fit in this offense. What does Beckham bring to the table, and how does he open things up for this offense?

How does Beckham fit? 

Adding Beckham gives you at the very least a fourth truly competent receiver to work with. With Jakobi Meyers in the slot, Nelson Agholor at the Z spot, the Patriots fit Beckham in at the X. That’s a receiver trio that Mac Jones should be comfortable with, and most other quarterbacks would agree. Especially with Kendrick Bourne also in the mix. Then, N’Keal Harry seeing some usage, the two tight ends in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, and the rushing threat of Damien Harris. That offense would have a lot of options at their disposal. They would be able to operate from a variety of different looks, and incorporate loads of pre-snap motion in order to create a multiplicity of mismatches on the field. On a consistent basis, they would have the personnel to beat the blitz, tight man coverage, and find empty holes in zone coverage, getting playmakers into space with the football.

Ability to draw favorable matchups from a variety of looks

Beckham would be that true number one receiver that New England is missing, and be the true X receiver they have been searching for. With top three receivers solidified and two top tier tight ends, the passing game could work out of almost any formation. 

That includes spreading out the field, and Jones reading out of a three receiver, two tight end set. With defenses focusing on not getting beat deep by Agholor and trying to account for Beckham and his playmaking ability, the defense would still have to account for both Henry and Smith in the passing game, along with either Meyers or Bourne (whoever is in the game) on the shallow route. Leaving those four to get favorable matchups in the passing game, and likely strengthen Jones’ quick passing game ability and options even further. 

Likely improvement on third-down conversions

Not to mention, the third-down conversion rate for this team (currently at 42.86%, good for sixth according to TeamRankings) would go up even further. Allowing them to compete for one of the top chain-moving offenses in football, which would be another way in which they could start to solidify themselves as a playoff threat. 

How the run game factors in; defensive stressors

Ideally, with solid offensive line play and Jones continuing to complete passes, avoid the mistakes, that offense plus Beckham makes them a serious AFC threat. Adding in the threat of the run game behind the offensive line still potentially awaiting the return of Trent Brown. Also factoring in the defense that has impressed throughout the season. A unit currently ranking twelfth in the league. Additionally, just won the game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Doing so by holding Justin Hebert to arguably his worst performance of the season. 

With the strong rushing attack, and the depth at the skill positions, play action would present problems for opposing defenses. Harris has been routinely rushing for 100 yards a game. So to have Harris or Stevenson as a rushing threat or a receiving threat, along with the two tight ends helping sell run until it’s a pass, would be enough stress on a defense. But also Beckham underneath, Agholor up top. Man, that puts a lot of different stressors on a defense and secondary. Especially when the offensive line can protect the pass. 

An underutilized wrinkle to call more: possibility of RPOs

Along those lines, the offense has not been afraid to dabble in the RPO from time to time this season. Offensive playcaller, Josh McDaniels, could also put defenders in a bind. With Alabama boys Jones and Harris, both familiar with similar RPO looks, have another weapon at their disposal. Beckham, who can be a threat on the slant route and with the ball in his hands. That RPO trio off different looks, including two-tight end sets, could be deadly. 

Beckham would get his targets, of course. He would likely be a big splash play guy. Play the role as someone who they would get the ball to in space. He’d be someone who could haul in given contested catch scenarios. Along with run those RPOs with on occasion. It would truly depend on how quickly he could get a feel for the offense and the environment. 

Dominating field position, moving the chains, & hitting the checkdowns

Regardless of Beckham’s individual statistical contributions, one thing is for sure. His addition to the offense would help in two of the three keys to winning football games (field position, turnovers, and penalties). This team with Beckham would be able to dominate field position on all three units. They’d be able to convert third downs at a high rate. By adding enough talent for defenses to need to respect, defenses get in a matchup bind. Therefore, allowing Jones to likely have his checkdown options and third-down chainmovers (Meyers, Henry, Bourne, potentially Smith) open even more. While for the times in which defenses don’t respect Beckham’s game-changing talent, you then have a big playmaker option in this offense. An offense that has struggled to produce plays of 20 yards or more in the first half of the season. 

What might Belichick think of all this?

That offense would have much at their disposal to push them into a Wild Card spot. It would be Wild Card at the very least, assuming this then high-powered team could go on a run to end the season. Given the team is currently the first spot out of the Wild Card, you better bet that Belichick is salivating at the idea of Beckham. The idea of being able to run his offense out of so many different looks and formations would be arousing to almost any head coach. The move would likely stamp his ticket to the team’s first playoff appearance of the Mac Jones/post-Brady era. A milestone that the he’s likely at least somewhat itching to get past. Buckle up folks, things could get interesting. 

As when Belichick was asked about mid-season acquisitions today, he responded with this:

And to top things all off for Belichick, this could sweeten the deal even more, given Beckham clears waivers:

Again, we’ve been looking at photos of Beckham cropped into a New England jersey for years. However, this time around, buckle up folks. It might just be that time a camera truly captures Beckham wearing the blue, red, and grey. Don’t buy the jerseys yet and monitor the weekend rumors distantly from the couch. Just keep in mind, if no team were to claim him Monday night, the Patriots will almost definitely swoop in hawkishly toward this missing puzzle piece to their offense. Making another aggressive push, just like the spending-spree bonanza they had this off-season.

Patriots Can Reframe AFC Playoffs Versus Chargers

Last year, the Patriots steamrolled the Chargers in SoFi Stadium. In front of no fans, the Chargers folded against an inadequate Patriots team whose strengths were often afterthoughts in the world of football. Special teams and defense carried New England to a 45-0 victory. A game where quarterback Cam Newton only had to throw for 69 yards. This game will surely be a whole different type of game. The Chargers have improved significantly, leading the AFC West, and look like an explosive team headed into the halfway mark of the season. Justin Herbert hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and it looks like the hiring of Brandon Staley has worked wonders for the Chargers defense.

The Patriots are coming off of a 54-13 domination over the New York Jets. A game where the offense finally looked like it clicked. Mac Jones threw for 307 yards and two scores. Meanwhile, the defense suffocated anything New York gave them. The Chargers will be a taller task though, and will not be a walk in the park. The Patriots need to start stringing some big wins together. They’re just a game out of the playoff picture, the next several weeks will be huge in their push. So let’s get to it. Set it up Bailey, and let’s get this one underway.

Three Keys to The Game

Patriots vs. Jets: Live updates, score, news, game details - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Keep Offense Hot

The Patriots finally put a complete effort on offense together last week against the Jets. Over 300 yards through the air, and nearly 150 yards on the ground. The Pats shouldn’t have any lack of confidence when it comes to the capabilities of this unit after such a dominating outing last week. Though the Chargers are far more talented than the lowly Jets, I don’t see any reason why the Pats should just collapse. There will be more resistance, but by no means should they be shut down. Josh McDaniels has opened this playbook just enough to show just how productive they can be. I wouldn’t expect another 300-yard day for Jones, but efficiency is within the realm of possibility for this squadron.

Key #2: Contain Justin Herbert

The sophomore slump hasn’t affected Justin Herbert in the least bit. The 2020 rookie of the year has been lights out through six games. The former Oregon Duck has already passed for 1,771 yards and 14 touchdowns, proving to be one of the most productive signal-callers in the game. He’s got a plethora of weapons to throw to. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Jared Cook, and Austin Ekeler out of the backfield could prove to be a nightmare for a beat-up Patriots secondary. Herbert will probably be airing the ball out and often to start, the Pats need to be prepared for the Chargers’ main weapon of choice.

Key #3: Neutralize Joey Bosa

Joey Bosa is probably the best pure pass rusher New England has faced to this point of the season. The sixth-year (yeah, that shocked me too) pro has already racked up 3.5 sacks and 8 QB hits on the year. Ranking top-10 in win percentage versus opposing lineman and the fourth-best graded edge rusher according to PFF. Isaiah Wynn or whoever ends up playing at right tackle this week will have their hands full versus the former Buckeye. If The Patriots are going to have a chance this week it’ll have to include making sure Mac Jones doesn’t get torn apart by Bosa.

X-Factor: Kyle Dugger

LOCAL PRO ROUNDUP: New England's Dugger 'hyped' for 2021 NFL season |  Sports News | hickoryrecord.com

Two interceptions in two games is really impressive for second-year safety Kyle Dugger. He’ll have his hands full against the crafty veteran Jared Cook this weekend. The Patriots love to man up against these tight ends with athletic safeties. Dugger certainly fits this bill and he’s taken over the Chung role to take on these freakishly talented tight ends. Adrian Phillips will play a significant role in this defensive gameplan as well, but I’m really hoping Dugger gets a chance to shine against one of the NFL’s best.

Closing Thoughts

Patriots-Rams betting: Sharps grab side, total | Las Vegas Review-Journal

What makes this game so appealing is that both of these teams are vastly improved from a season ago. The Patriots have totally remodeled themselves into an offense with some serious potential. Meanwhile, the Chargers have turned themselves into the top-tier AFC contender we all thought that they could be. Taking the AFC West and currently running away with it, with the help of the unforeseen collapse of the Kansas City Chiefs of course.

Even with all of that being said, I think New England is seriously onto something here. I haven’t seen the team this amped up since the departure of Tom Brady. No matter who it’s against, dropping a 50 burger on anybody is surely confidence-inspiring, and I think New England pulls out a tough win on this road trip getting back up to .500. Having them feeling good versus Stephon Gilmore and the Carolina Panthers next week.

Final Score: 31-28, New England (4-4)

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The Patriots Need to Close the Door on the Jets

The New England Patriots have a chronic issue. They can never close the door. Forget that all of their losses have been at home. They’ve been in every game they’ve played. There have been countless chances to win it. Versus the Dolphins week one, Damien Harris fumbled late and cost them. Versus the Saints week three, the defense held on just long enough but Jonnu Smith dropped a pass that got taken back to the endzone by Malcolm Jenkins. Week four against Tom Brady and the Bucs, a Mac Jones pass was batted down on the last drive of the game and forced the Patriots to kick a 56-yard field goal, just too much to ask of an injured Nick Folk.

Then last week against Dallas, they were simply outcoached and outplayed. They held a late lead but Mac Jones threw a pick-six and in overtime, Nelson Agholor dropped a pass that he could’ve taken all the way to end the game. The Patriots have nobody to blame but themselves for their 2-4 record. If it was not for the Dolphins starting out 1-5, they’d be perpetually in third place of the AFC East. Luckily, the third-place spot is about the floor for this team. As their opponent this week, the New York Jets, are more of a mess than almost anybody in the NFL. The Patriots floored them 25-6 in their week two matchup. Forcing four interceptions off rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.

I don’t foresee them having an issue keeping the Jets out of the game, but Gillette Stadium hasn’t been a good place for the Patriots this season. Which means we can’t rule anything out at home. So without further delay, set it up, Bailey! Let’s get this underway.

Three Keys to The Game

The Patriots-Jets rivalry has entered the Mac Jones-Zach Wilson era, but  the result is the same – The Athletic

Key #1: Confuse Zach Wilson … Again

In week two, the rookie in green threw four interceptions and saw ghosts, just as Sam Darnold did before him. It was obvious that the Patriots’ defense set the tone early and got in his head often. Obviously, Bill Belichick can’t just copy and paste his week two strategy. It’s been five weeks, and the Jets actually have a win under their belt against a solid Titans team. But being just as complex and overwhelming as they were in week two will go a long way. Get in the rookie’s head. I’m sure he’s baked more turnovers for the boogeymen to enjoy.

Key #2: Contain Quinnen Williams

The Jets aren’t good at much. But Quinnen Williams is a monster on the defensive line. A true force to be reckoned with. Not quite Aaron Donald, but he’ll wreck a game for your offense if you let him. He wins about 19% of his pass-rush snaps, which is in the top-16 for defensive tackles. He’s also already got three sacks on the year and is consistently ranked as one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL by PFF. Williams is a dominant force and the battered Patriots offensive line is going to have their hands full come Sunday afternoon. Mac Jones, per usual, won’t have all day to throw the football. Not only because the offensive line is that ugly, but that Williams is that damn good as well.

Key #3: Establish an Offensive Attack

The Jets quietly have a top-10 defense in both terms of rushing yards and passing yards. They stuffed the Patriots’ run game with only allowing Damien Harris and James White to have a combined 82 total yards rushing in their last meeting. Meanwhile keeping Mac Jones quiet, only allowing 186 yards through the air for no score. This is where closing the door comes into play. The Patriots cannot allow the Jets to get chance after chance because the offense stalls.

Simply relying on your opponent to be worse than you doesn’t work that often. Especially for the Patriots this year, no more evident than when they almost choked a game away against the Houston Texans, allowing Davis Mills to drop over 300 passing yards and 4 touchdowns on their head. Zach Wilson is much more dynamic than Mills. If he taps into his potential, he’ll take advantage of a lazy defense. Don’t make the defense work harder than they have to. The offense needs to pick up some of the slack. Whether it be Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson on the ground, or through Jones and the air attack, they can’t fall asleep.

X-Factor: Jonnu Smith

Jonnu Smith, <a rel=

A lot of Jonnu Smith’s teammates have been gassing him up, saying that a breakout game is coming soon. Could this be his opportunity? The Jets are a bottom-10 team against the tight end position according to fantasy points allowed. Not to say that Fantasy Football is the end-all-be-all of defensive rankings, but it’s a spot they’ve been vulnerable at and the stats show it. Hunter Henry has been eating the most recently out of the two. It might be Jonnu’s time to shine after a quiet handful of weeks. If he comes alive, this Patriots offense becomes so much closer to everything it’s supposed to be.

At this point, I’ll personally take any big-time impact from the new guys we brought in. We’ve seen Kendrick Bourne break out. Particularly last week versus the Cowboys. We’ve seen Hunter Henry become a consistent target for Mac Jones. It’s time to see Jonnu Smith become the same.

Closing Thoughts

3-Time Super Bowl Champion Richard Seymour Voted into Patriots Hall of Fame  | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

In case you missed it, Patriots legend Richard Seymour is getting his red jacket this weekend at Patriot Place. His induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame is on Saturday ahead of this matchup. Just to remember how much of a beast he was; he racked up 39 sacks over the course of 8 seasons with the team, 64 tackles for loss, and won three Super Bowls with the franchise. Making up one half of a deadly combination between him and Vince Wilfork, another surefire Patriots Hall of Famer and possibly bound for the NFL Hall of Fame at the same time. Seymour is well-deserving of this honor and will be remembered as one of the most fierce linemen of the Patriots dynasty, after terrorizing countless opponents in the biggest games imaginable.

As for the game at hand, there’s no reason Patriots fans shouldn’t be confident. This is a really abysmal Jets team, with a rookie quarterback and head coach still struggling to find their identity. Who were also dominated by New England just five weeks ago. But I think the Jets have a good chance of keeping pace with the Pats. The New England offense just hasn’t found its groove yet. They can compete with the best of them, but winning the game has proven to be something that they struggle with.

Despite all this, I will give New England the win. The Jets have failed to prove much of anything themselves. Despite good defense against the rush and the pass, they struggle to win more than New England does. Anything can happen though. We’ve seen Gillette Stadium become a grounds for losing it hasn’t seen in its almost 20-year history. I’d like to think that changes on Sunday.

Final Score: 28-12, New England (3-4)

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Patriots Will Be Challenged by Cowboys

The New England Patriots were barely able to escape last week with a 25-22 win over the Houston Texans. After a 312 yard, two-touchdown performance from third-round pick quarterback Davis Mills, the Patriots completed a 13-point second-half comeback. With an offensive line made from the scrap heap, Mac Jones was only sacked once. The pass protection wasn’t the problem last weekend. Ball security and sloppy defense were. Damien Harris fumbled yet again, costing the Patriots a touchdown early. Defensively they couldn’t stop a nosebleed. They relied on Davis Mills falling apart to steal the victory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (not you, Matt Patricia) to figure out that they probably won’t get that lucky against the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott has been on an absolute tear to start the season, passing for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. Posting a 116.9 passer rating. He’s surrounded by a plethora of talent. Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, and Amari Cooper far outmatch the talent that Houston had last week. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense is vastly improved. They’re a top-five rushing defense and they rank first in scoring. Not a great matchup for a Pats offense that struggles to put points on the board as is.

It’s not all bad though. The Patriots are finally getting healthy again with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason returning to practice. It shouldn’t be long until they’re full strength. So without further ado, set it up, Bailey. Let’s get this one going.

Three Keys to The Game

How the Patriots offense will find success against the Cowboys - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Stuff The Run

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best backs in the NFL. Even if the production hasn’t been the same since his first year, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The Dallas offense still revolves heavily around their success with the run game. The Cowboys average 5.3 yards per rush and about 172 yards per game on the ground. Tony Pollard providing some support on the depth chart shouldn’t be overlooked either. He’s averaging 60 yards a game as well. The run game will be a huge factor in the possible rain in Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots can slow them down they’re already in great shape. We’re looking at you, Lawrence Guy, and Davon Godchaux. Do what you do best.

Key #2: Keep Up With The Recievers

It’s not just the ground game that New England has to keep up with. The Cowboys have an MVP caliber quarterback in Dak Prescott, passing to pro-bowl caliber receivers in Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb. Not to mention sneakily dynamic tight ends Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin. You’d be hard-pressed to find an offense more talented than Dallas. I’m worried the Pats might not have the secondary to match.

Jalen Mills should be back this week to accompany J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones in taking on this tall task. But he’s no Stephon Gilmore. The Pats secondary will have to play infinitely better than they did last week if they want to be even semi-competitive against Dak Prescott. He’s not Davis Mills. Prescott will crush you if given the opportunity. If he’s given the windows that Mills was last week, he’ll make his case for MVP even stronger at our expense.

Key #3: Mac Jones Needs to Leap Forward

Listen, I’ve been just a big a fan of Mac Jones as the rest of the New England region. He’s been a nice change at the position by throwing the ball smartly, safely, and surprisingly accurate. At first, I thought the comparisons to 2001 Tom Brady were a bit reactionary. But I can sort of see it. And reports are from the ownership down, the Patriots organization absolutely loves what they have in Mac Jones. The confidence the organization has in him, and the confidence he has in himself are great. But the results need to start to come.

In the rookie’s first five starts, he’s been anything but flashy. He’s top 10 in total turnover-worthy plays for quarterbacks and his big-time throw rate sits with the likes of Daniel Jones and former Patriot Jacoby Brissett at 3.5 percent. It is possible that play-calling has hindered his ability to show what he has in store. But sooner or later he’s going to have to really hit his potential if the Patriots are to be contenders in 2021. The expectations are high, but that comes with being a first-round selection. He won’t get the pass that some late-round guys do for starting slow.

It’s almost mid-season, it’s put up or shut up time from now until the season’s close in Miami in 12 weeks. I’m sure that Bill Belichick intends on playing further into January as well. Let’s ease up on the training wheels and give Jones a chance to show off against a worthy opponent. Belichick didn’t sign Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne, and Nelson Agholor for no reason. Let’s see those big additions pay off in the biggest games, and I think this week against a Super Bowl contender certainly counts as one.

X-Factor: Jakobi Meyers

Patriots' Jakobi Meyers trying to carry on <a rel=

Did you know through three seasons in the NFL, Jakobi Meyers doesn’t have a single touchdown catch? He has a couple of throws to the endzone, but never a catch. Sure, he might’ve had one or two his rookie season if Tom Brady didn’t decide he hated rookies in his twilight in New England. But it’s unfathomable that despite being the Patriots’ best receiver last year and into this season, he’s been unable to find the endzone in his natural position.

If Jones is going to have the big day that he might just need to match up with Prescott, Meyers is going to have to break free from Trevon Diggs, and Anthony Brown, who has been electric to start this season. Diggs himself has put up a campaign similar to Stephon Gilmore in 2019 when he won defensive player of the year. If the passing game is to be the focus against the Cowboys, I wouldn’t be shocked if Meyers is the focal point of it and sees around 15 looks from Jones. Isn’t it about the time he’s found the endzone anyway? He’s only been the Patriots’ most reliable target since the conclusion of Julian Edelman‘s career. Which came about eight months before his official retirement announcement.

Closing Thoughts

3 Players Bill Belichick, Patriots Need to Get More Involved Immediately |  Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights

I cannot begin to fathom how bad of a look it would be for the Patriots to lose four straight home games to open the season. The last time the Patriots had a .500 or lower record at home? The 2000 season, Belichick’s first with the team, and effectively Drew Bledsoe‘s last as the starter. Even Cam Newton was able to pull off the wins in Foxboro. I get the schedule hasn’t been easy, and if it wasn’t for a few plays going the wrong way, the Pats are a 4-1 team. But we don’t live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where “What If?” could be turned into something worthwhile. In the NFL, the win is all that matters.

I would be lying if I said I’m confident the Patriots can pull off a win, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. After keeping up with Tampa Bay’s offense at almost full strength, it isn’t impossible to picture Belichick being able to frustrate the Cowboys. We’ve seen the Patriots do far more with much less. It’s a common theme among various Patriots teams through the years.

The concern obviously lies with the Patriots’ offense making the most of their opportunities. Something they’ve failed on doing thus far into the season. Ranking 25th in total offense. Maybe Mrs. McDaniels can get Josh to finally start being a little more aggressive with the play calls, and let Mac Jones rip it a little. If they can produce at least three touchdowns worth of points on offense? I give the Patriots a real chance. So I’ll ride on the optimism train a little bit longer. Don’t let me down, Belichick!

Final Score: 27-23, New England (3-3)

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Patriots Regress in Win Versus Texans

Watching the Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Houston, it’d be easy to forget that this is the same squadron that took on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and almost won. In a narrow 25-22 victory against the Texans, the Pats looked uninspired. Early on in the game, rookie quarterback Davis Mills was able to walk all over the Patriots D. He had a surprisingly impressive performance, tossing for 312 yards and 3 TDs. Give him credit, he played well. The best a rookie ever has versus Bill Belichick. But I blame the Patriots defense for being so weak more than I think Mills did anything amazing. The Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo unit just looked lost through the entirety of the first three quarters. After getting an 18-play, 10-minute long touchdown drive dropped on them in the first quarter, they simply rolled over.

Offensively, their ailments weren’t exactly what you’d expect out of a team down 4 of their starting 5 offensive linemen. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was only sacked once. The things that costed them were ghosts that have haunted them all season; ball security. This game all went sideways for the Patriots when running back Damien Harris, whose health and job security are now in jeopardy, fumbled a touchdown in the endzone to allow the Texans to start to pull away ahead of halftime. And following a brutal Jakobi Meyers drop that cost the Patriots a score, instead of going into halftime tied at 15, they were down 15-9 following a Nick Folk field goal. Then opened the third quarter down 22-9.

Why It’s So Troubling

Patriots: Damien Harris' fumbling issues put his status as bell cow back in  question

This is a Houston Texans team headed by players who probably wouldn’t make it as an everyday starter on other teams in the league. Some of whom are familiar to the fans of New England. A Texans team that is without their superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson, and their serviceable backup Tyrod Taylor. Yet they still almost let a third-round pick steal the game away. While on the opposite side, their first-round pick struggled to get anything noteworthy going.

It’s been a bit slow out of the gate for Mac Jones. The coaching staff hasn’t quite given him the opportunity to shine as fans had hoped. His biggest highlight so far is completing 19 consecutive throws against Tampa. Most of which, were easy check-downs and just making simple reads. Which have their worth, but the lack of explosiveness is a deep concern. A concern that lies at the feet of Josh McDaniels and his play calling.

Looking Ahead

Texans vs. Patriots: Everything we know about the 25-22 heartbreaker

Defensively it’s almost double the concern. If Davis Mills is able to walk all over New England with a sub-average level of talent around him, just imagine what the Dallas Cowboys will be capable of. With Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and a solid offensive line? Let’s just say they should hope for a gigantic return to their week four form next weekend.

It doesn’t get much easier for the Patriots moving forward. Following the Cowboys, the Patriots get the Jets at home, the Panthers in Carolina for a Stephon Gilmore revenge game, the Chargers in Los Angeles, and then the Browns in Gillette. You have to wonder at 2-3 if the Patriots can run the gauntlet necessary to get into the playoffs. If this were a Tom Brady team? I wouldn’t be hitting the panic button just yet. But it’s not. And that red button looks really tempting right about now. Let’s see how this team handles themselves fully healthy before we panic though. There’s still plenty of football left to go.

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Patriots Need an Easy Win Versus Texans

I can’t remember a time in the last twenty seasons where this sentence has ever been so true for the New England Patriots outside of last season; they desperately need a victory this week. Despite looking impressive last week in a 19-17 loss versus Tampa, the Patriots are still 1-3. They don’t have a win at home despite three of their first four being at Gillette Stadium.

Sure, you could say that if it wasn’t for a Damien Harris fumble and a batted Mac Jones‘ pass the Pats would be sitting at 3-1. But the NFL isn’t huge on hypotheticals. The fact of the matter is the Patriots have put themselves in quite the predicament. Since 1990, only 14.2 percent of teams that start out of the gate 1-3 even make it to the playoffs. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, because nothing is with Bill Belichick. But if there was ever a time for the Patriots to put it together, it’s now.

This week the Patriots take on the also 1-3 Houston Texans. Last year the Texans shredded the Patriots’ defense, with Deshaun Watson passing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Houston, Watson has been under a whole lot of controversy this off-season, and probably won’t play at all for them this season, or maybe ever again. So the Texans are rolling out fellow rookie quarterback Davis Mills from Stanford. The 2021 third-round selection hasn’t been quite as good as his adversary Mac Jones or other fellow rookie quarterbacks. Mills has passed for just 357 yards and two touchdowns for a completion percentage of 56.7 with five interceptions. Leading the Texans to 0-2 in his starts.

If Tyrod Taylor wasn’t injured, maybe this team poses a better threat, but for New England, this is as easy as it gets for a little while. The uphill climb starts now. So let’s not delay any further. Set it up Bailey, and let’s get this one underway.

Three Keys to The Game

Patriots vs. Rams Monday injury report: <a rel=

Key #1: Offensive Line Flexability

It’s been a really tough week for the Patriots’ offensive line. A unit that’s already struggling may be without their starting left guard and left tackle in Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn, who were put on the COVID-19 reserve list on Wednesday. The other starting lineman were out of practice this week as well. I don’t imagine this would be a situation where the Patriots’ offensive line would be made up entirely of backups, but the Pats could very well be reaching into the bag for some new combinations across the line. Mac Jones could be in for another tough game. Where’s Dante Scarnecchia when you need him? Look for Yodny Cajuste and Ted Karras as fill-ins if necessary, and another week of Yasir Durant/Justin Herron at right tackle if Trent Brown still isn’t back. Where’s Dante Scarnecchia when you need him?

Key #2: Confuse Davis Mills

Bill Belichick was able to improve his record against rookie quarterbacks two weeks ago against Zach Wilson and the Jets. A similar game plan should do against the significantly less dynamic Mills. Wilson ended up panicking and throwing four picks to the Pats’ defense. With linebacker Jamie Collins returning and the Boogeymen being in full swing, maybe Mills can be the next kid to see ghosts.

Key #3: Mac Jones Picks up Where He Left Off

I wrote at length earlier this week about how impressive Mac Jones was versus Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. He completed 31 of 40 pass attempts for 275 yards and two touchdowns. He also tied Brady’s record for consecutive completed passes at 19 in a row! Jones already looks like a pro in a whole lot of respects. Impressing a lot of people in his young career. It’s vital that he picks up right where he left off, and the run game has his back this time. Unlike last week where the team posted a total of -1 yards on the ground. Maybe Belichick can let Rhamondre Stevenson out of the doghouse this week?

X-Factor: Chase Winovich

Patriots: These Chase Winovich stats prove he needs a featured role in 2021

Edge rusher Chase Winovich has never been a favorite of mine. Personally, I never saw his ability worth the hype he gets around here in New England, but I can admit this; he’s by far the Pats’ most intense pass rusher. The key to flustering a young quarterback is knocking him around and getting in his face. Winovich has the motor to do just that and can absolutely give Mills a true “welcome to the NFL, rookie” moment. His snap count this season hasn’t been great, not crossing 20 total at all through four games. Give him an easy assignment against an underwhelming pass protection and maybe he can also get out of the Belichick doghouse. I could see the former Michigan Wolverine having a big game if given the opportunity,

Closing Thoughts

Report: Patriots and <a rel=

The New England Patriots said farewell to 2019 Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Stephon Gilmore this week. On a turbulent Wednesday, Gilmore was shipped to the Carolina Panthers for a 2023 sixth-round selection. Unfortunately, contract negotiations just never got going and Gilmore just wasn’t going to return. This was the best move for both parties, it’s just extremely unfortunate that the best Belichick could get was a sixth-round pick. Either way, Gilmore leaves Foxboro a Super Bowl champion, and in an elite class of corners who have come through New England and played at their highest level. I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a red jacket waiting for him at Patriot Place in a decade from now. He’ll get a shot to stick it to his former team week nine when the Pats travel to Charlotte.

As for the game at hand, I’ve predicted the Patriots would win every game but last week versus Tampa. Where I thought they’d get smoked. The Pats have let me and a whole lot of other columnists down to start the season (like Bill Belichick even remotely cares). But I would like to think even with a shaky offensive line situation, the Pats can pull it off. They almost did versus the elite pass rush of Tampa Bay. I think it’ll be close. More close than it probably should be. But the Patriots will pick up a huge tune-up win before coming home to face a scary Dallas Cowboys team on the rebound.

Final Score27-23, Patriots win (2-3)

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The GOAT Disappoints in Return to Foxborough

Most Anticipated Game Ever?

Sunday night was a quintessential cold and rainy fall night in Foxborough. But the nippy weather didn’t matter to the sixty-six thousand fans packed into a full Gillette Stadium; they were there for something bigger.

For four gripping hours, the entire sporting world stood still in wonder of, perhaps the most hyped up regular season game of all time. In the midst of the dreamlike night, an emotional New England crowd, arms wide open, welcomed back the man who had for so long been the source of their happiness. The GOAT.

But boy did Antonio Brown disappoint.

Despite a respectable box score of 7 catches on 11 targets for 63 yards, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Brown jealed for a good portion of the game.

Brown’s Middling Performance

Brown saw most of his initial production come on quick hitters while matched up against Jon Jones, the New England Patriots’ primary nickel corner. Despite Jones playing most of his career snaps lined up in the slot, he tracked Brown around the field on Sunday night in a direct man-to-man matchup.

Nearly half of Brown’s yardage came on a single 27-yard deep throw late in the first quarter, during which a perfectly placed back shoulder allowed Brown to separate at the last second from Jones.

After a few more quick throws, Brown had a chance to shine in the red zone before the end of the half. However, he dropped two (admittedly poorly placed) back shoulder bullets that forced the offense to settle for field goals.

On a big third down early in the third quarter, Brown finally made a big play on a 44 yard catch… only for it to be called back due to a hands-to-the-face penalty on the left tackle.

Brown’s return to New England was a filled with missed opportunities. His inability to convert in big moments became most evident on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ last offensive drive.

After a miscommunication on deep throw on second down in the red zone, Brown had a chance to redeem himself. On third down, quarterback Tom Brady (fun fact, Brady used to play for the Patriots) threw a deep strike that surgically hit Brown in the worst place possible: his hands. Of course, Brown dropped the dime, ruining what could’ve been his signature moment in his return home.

Though this will go down in the stats sheets as a routine game for the receiver, there’s no doubt that New England fans will be talking about the disappointment of Brown’s mediocre return for years to come.

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Mac Jones Outshined Tom Brady in Thriller

Wow. Who would’ve thought this is how the game would play out. Not that Tom Brady and the Buccaneers would edge out Mac Jones and the Patriots in Foxboro by a score of 19-17. They were a touchdown favorite heading into it. But that the Patriots would keep up as well as they did. For every punch the Buccaneers offense had to offer, Mac Jones and the Patriots delivered right back. Early on in the game, one could say the Pats had full control. Maybe it was the emotions getting the best of the 44-year old quarterback. By no means was it easy for even the GOAT to walk into Gillette Stadium with that atmosphere and be poised. If it were anybody else, odds are the jitters would’ve lasted the entire night.

Tom Brady left Sunday night with a solid, not great, statline. TB12 went 22/43 for 269 yards and no score, enough to break Drew Brees‘s passing yards record (thanks for the botched celebration, referees). He leaves Gillette Stadium once more victorious. A feeling Brady knows all too well and always tends to end up a beneficiary of a win. But we can’t ignore the rookie on the other sideline. Mac Jones put up an amazingly unpredictable night. McCorkle simply just matched whatever Brady threw at him, going 31/40 for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns (nice to see Jonnu Smith rebound for a score). If anybody wasn’t sold on Mac Jones heading into this game, they likely are now after a strong showing against a strong Bucs team.

Mac Jones Was Beyond Impressive

Sure, we can argue that Tampa’s defense wasn’t at full strength. It seemed like every corner they had would drop like flies at the hint of contact. By the end of the night, the newly signed Richard Sherman was the only starting corner out there. For a while, I thought the Bucs might ask the Patriots to borrow Troy Brown for some snaps at corner. So maybe this is a reactionary piece, but I’m willing to accept the backlash. Mac Jones outplayed Tom Brady in the biggest game of this young NFL season. That’s the take you’ll be seeing among NFL media and being discussed for the next week or so.

Jones showed up to play, looking unphased by all the pressure of the big game. After being hit 12 times and facing the blitz on almost half of his snaps, McCorkle performed his best. Specifically against the blitz, Jones was 15/19 for 156 and a touchdown. Patriots fans have no reason to complain about the quarterback. It’s been a long while since fans could say that their quarterback was better than the opponents. It is only a shocker because the opponent was a seven-time Super Bowl champion.

Moving Forward

Mac Jones outplays Tom Brady as Patriots fall to Buccaneers in instant  classic (5 up, 5 down) - masslive.com

As Tom Brady says a likely farewell to the Patriots and their fans, Mac Jones makes his name household in New England. It may have been a passing of the torch moment. But one thing is for certain; if Bill Belichick is impressed by anybody in this game, my pick is #10 in navy blue. The Patriots may fall to 1-3, but their next three matchups are against the Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, and the division rival New York Jets. All seemingly winnable games. If I’m New England, I don’t see any reason to not be confident moving forward. After going toe to toe with the defending champs? Anything is possible with this team. As future hall of fame wide receiver, Julian Edelman would say; “You gotta believe!”

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Patriots Face Goliath This Week Versus Bucs

It’s been a dramatic week for Patriots fans. This game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a game once thought impossible for many years by fans. Tom Brady, after spending 20 years in Foxboro as the signal-caller for the Pats offense, is making his return home as an opponent. Along with another Patriots legend in tight end Rob Gronkowski.

This game is a pinnacle moment in the “Brady or Belichick?” debate. For a couple of years now fans of the NFL have discussed who is more responsible for the greatest dynasty in all of sports. I maintain that it is still 50-50, but I think the popular opinion is now more TB12 than Bill Belichick. But let’s put that aside. I already discussed how high the emotions are for this game earlier in the week. Now let’s discuss the game itself.

The Patriots are coming off a brutal 28-13 loss against the Saints. A game where they were just smothered offensively and worn out defensively. The Josh McDaniels offense wasn’t able to muster much of anything until the fourth quarter. By the time they got the ball rolling, the defense just couldn’t stop a nosebleed. Mac Jones got pummeled, throwing his first three picks in the process. The matchup doesn’t get any easier against the Tampa Bay defense, with their pass rush being a strength. But tackle Trent Brown should make his return in this game. It’s a big opportunity for the rookie quarterback. The stakes haven’t been higher in his young career. If he pulls out a win here? His confidence should be soaring in the coming weeks. So without further delay, set it up, Bailey! Let’s get this preview underway.

Three Keys to The Game

New England Patriots news 9/16/21 - - Pats Pulpit

Key #1: Really Protecting Mac Jones

Mac Jones is getting killed back there. A consistent element through three weeks of Patriots football is that the pass protection has not been ideal. He was hit 11 times and sacked twice last week. One of his interceptions was directly related to him getting decked and the ball floating to an unintended target. Trent Brown may be returning, but he’ll be facing Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquille Barrett this week. As for the interior line; Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh. It certainly doesn’t get any easier against the defending champs. But if they can protect their rookie quarterback? The Bucs are on pace to have the worst defense in NFL history as far as yardage allowed. If Mac can be protected good things will happen.

Key #2: Jonnu Smith Has to Catch the Ball

Tight end Jonnu Smith was one of the big free-agent acquisitions this off-season. He was paid handsomely to help fix the Pats’ lowest-ranked tight-end production in 2020. Last week he was more of a detriment than an asset. Smith was targeted six times and only caught one pass. The other five were dropped or bobbled and given to the Saints for a free touchdown. Smith is an amazing talent. But he’s gotta bring those passes in. I have faith that he’ll turn it around because he’s going to have to. Expect McDaniels to throw Smith some balls early just to get his confidence going again.

Key #3: Keeping Up With Tampa’s Weapons

This is probably Tom Brady’s most stacked offense in his entire career. He’s throwing passes to Gronk, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and O.J. Howard. Along with a fantastic offensive line. Without Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots’ secondary has their hands full. The Bucs are gonna score points. Of that, I have no doubt. So the Pats defense is just going to have to limit those opportunities. This game definitely delivers more pressure on the offense to keep up, but the defense can’t let Tampa drop 50 on their head and expect to win.

X-Factor: J.J. Taylor

Former Arizona running back J.J. Taylor projected as New England Patriots'  2021 'breakout star' - Arizona Desert Swarm

With James White going down with a season-ending hip injury, somebody has to be Jones’s security blanket in the flats. There’s a good chance J.J. Taylor gets the opportunity to show his talent as a third-down back. The second-year player from Arizona is a 5’6 waterbug. He has an incredible burst and has surprising power as a ball carrier. Now he can show if he can catch the football. The Patriots are a little thin at that spot and will need a quick solution. It would surely be nice if that solution is already on the roster. I expect Taylor to get a shot to prove himself worthy and possibly carve out a permanent role for himself in this offense.

Closing Thoughts

Who is more responsible for the Patriots' success, Brady or Belichick? -  The Boston Globe

As we talked about previously, I never thought I’d be seeing my childhood hero in Tom Brady playing against my favorite team. It was all peaches and cream the way I had dreamt it in my head. But alas, some things just don’t work out as smoothly as we would imagine them to. Instead, we get to see a serious masterclass on Sunday Night Football. It’s not just juicy drama, it’s great football. Well, the potential to be great football. Belichick is the coach that knows Brady like no one else. Just like Brady is the quarterback that knows a Belichick defense better than everybody else. 20 years together will really make you get to know a person.

When it comes down to making a prediction, I really don’t want to. My favorite player ever going up against my favorite team doesn’t make this an easy call. But when you compare the two teams; the choice is obvious on paper. The Patriots and Bucs will be close going into halftime. Say a 14-10 lead for Tampa. But the Pats won’t be able to keep up offensively. Brady’s gang will drop three straight touchdowns and we’ll score in garbage time. I hope I’m proven wrong. But through three weeks, the only thing that will keep the Pats in the game with the Bucs is stupid mistakes from them. Which isn’t very likely. We know all too well how smart their quarterback is.

Final Score: 38-17, Tampa Bay (Patriots fall to 1-3)

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