Rookie Wingmen: A look at who helped Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson make the playoffs

History will be made this weekend, when three rookie quarterbacks start for their teams in the playoffs. The combination of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson may go down as one of the greatest quarterback draft classes of all time. Yet, for all the talent and poise these rookies have shown, they haven’t reached the playoffs alone.

Like every ace pilot, every great quarterback needs a good wingman (or two). Maverick had Goose, Iceman had Slider, and each of the rookie quarterbacks playing in wild card weekend have their own rookie wingmen as well. With that in mind, it’s time to pay tribute to the Goose’s of the world, and highlight the wingmen who helped make these unlikely playoff runs possible.

Let’s fly into the Danger Zone.

Alright, I’m done with Top Gun references, for now.

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The Unexpected (and expected) for week 17: Hide that flag!

It’s week 17, and the NFL regular season is in the books. Let’s take a look at the unexpected (and expected) for week 17.

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History was made! In the Jaguars vs. Titans game?

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Just when you thought there was no reason to watch the bout between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans, the players went and made this game relevant. It was the first time in NFL history that two players on the same team each had multiple return touchdowns in same game.

To say that this sort of record happening in a Jaguars/Titans game is unexpected is an understatement for the ages.

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Memories of Experiencing ChuckStrong – 2012 NFL-ballooza

Even though the team I was rooting for lost, to this day I am still glad I was there. It was the start of one of the best stories of the 2012 NFL season, and an instance where the country was able to see again the football is more than a game as it pulled a community together. The day I’m referring to is when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Green Bay Packers, and ChuckStrong became a part of the NFL lexicon.

The game took place a mere six days after news broke about Chuck Pagano’s diagnosis of a treatable form of leukemia. Hearts were heavy at Lucas Oil stadium, but most were optimistic about Pagano’s recovery. It was great to see players on both sides of the game respond by wearing #ChuckStrong t-shirts under their uniforms.

Despite the aura surrounding the game, early on it looked like a Packers rout would sour the mood in Indianapolis. The Packers were up 21-3 at halftime, and received the second half kickoff. That was, until, this happened.

The crowd, quiet since about midway through the second quarter, suddenly came to life. The Colts, facing a substantial deficit, started to believe this wasn’t over just yet. When Andrew Luck hit Dwayne Allen to cut the lead to 21-10, you could tell the entire tenor of the stadium and game had changed in an instant

From Reggie Wayne’s incredible one-handed grab, to Mason Crosby’s bizarre field goal miss as time expired, the Colts seemed destined to win the game and complete a storybook comeback. But they played as if destiny didn’t matter.  After that interception to start the half, the Colts were the better team. They played their hearts out, and won an important game for their coach, team, and city.

To me, that was the game that sparked the Colts unlikely run to 11 wins and a playoff berth one year removed from their disastrous 2-12 season. The best part was the Colts bookending that week 5 win over the Packers with a week 17 win over the Houston Texans… in Chuck Pagano’s first game back coaching the team.

Pagano’s battle and recovery not only helped ignite his young team to victory after victory, but it helped generate more awareness and fund-raising for the endless battle against cancer. To me, that was the story of the season, and one of the many examples of where football proves to be more than just a game.

By: Alex Gelhar

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelhar

Unexpected (and expected) Year in Review – 2012 NFL-ballooza

The 2012 regular season has come to a close and what a year it was. Here’s a look at the most Unexpected (and expected) outcomes of the year.

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Week 1: Tim Tebow starts

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When the New York Jets took the field for their first play of the season, Tim Tebow was out on the field with the starters. Well, it’s not what you think. Tebow lined up as a receiver for the Jets’ first offensive play, but starting quarterback Mark Sanchez didn’t look his way.

Tebow later joked, “I felt like I was open too.”

All in all, Tebow appeared in only nine offensive plays and didn’t account for much. Oh, and he was booed off the field, so there was that. This might have been the top highlight from (wait for it) … The Tebow Zone.

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Week 2: About those handshakes

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New Bucs coach Greg Schiano wasted no time ingratiating himself to Tom Coughlin, as he had the audacity to play the full 60 minutes and now allow the Giants to coast to a victory. That’s some nerve!

The Cardinals also improved to 2-0 this week with an improbable win over the host Patriots. Hey Patriots fans, remember that when your team has to go to Denver in the playoffs. Seriously, remember this kick?

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The Year on the Fringe…Fantasy – 2012 NFL-ballooza

It’s all sorts of fun to sit around and figure out who was fantasy football’s best player (Adrian Peterson) or best rookie (Robert Griffin III) and any number of other top awards. But what about some of the fringe fantasy honors that too often go overlooked?

For instance, what about the biggest “Where did that come from?” performance of the year, which is a toss-up between Brian Hartline (Week 4), Shonn Greene (Week 6) and Doug Martin (Week 9). Or how can we overlook the “Too Little, Too Late” award that should go unanimously to Larry Fitzgerald for his Week 16 outing. It’s all in a season’s work in fantasy football.

By: Marcas Grant

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My Favorite 2012 Football Card – Tim Tebow – 2012 NFL-ballooza

My Favorite 2012 Football Card – Tim Tebow – Topps Chrome #180

Tim Tebow passing stats: 6 for 8, 0 touchdowns, 39 passing yards

Like John Keat’s Grecian Urn this Tim Tebow card above will remain frozen in time.  By now the season has concluded and Tebow’s days of being a Jet trickle down to his inevitable departure to Jacksonville.  As a Jets fan and a Gator alum, I can’t help meditate on the possibilities of what may have been, the miracles that could have happened, and the Tebowing that will never be be. The card above seems like an obvious photoshop job, but there is a possibility this was photo was snapped in one of his eight passing attempts this season. Maybe it was from a preseason game.  Either way it will remind me of the Phantom Zone in Superman 2 that Jor-El sentenced General Zod and his crew.  This card will hover in a twilight zone of distorted expectations, botched wild-cats, and buttfumbles.  Tebow will never take a snap as a Jet.  This card will be a the lone relic of that thrilling time when that chance remained tangible. Now,  it remains just a glossy, fingerprint smudged piece of cardboard that you can pick up for the price of a Snickers bar in the vending machine.   That’s all I know and all I need to know.

By: Amar Shah

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The Drop – The Jets Season Explained in One Play – 2012 NFL-ballooza

I make no apologies for being a Jets fan. In fact, they should apologize to me for 2012, but we’ll save that for another day. Despite a lack of wins, they stayed in the headlines all year long. For every circus attraction that was their season, the biggest moment wasn’t the Butt Fumble, or the Sanchez Drama. Or the Rex Ryan drama. Or the Tebow drama. Okay, there was a lot of drama. In fact, more drama than victories, for sure. BUT. (Not Butt as in fumble) BUT. What never gets talked about was a moment that could have not only saved the Jets season, but possibly catapulted them to the playoffs.

In Week 7, the 3-3 Jets played 3-3 New England with first place in the AFC East at stake. New York lost in overtime 29-26 – just another Jets-Pats game, right? Not so much. With no Santonio Holmes and no Darrelle Revis, New York played the Patriots tight, and were poised to win the game late in the 4 th quarter.  With 2:13 left and the Jets down three, they were on the Patriots 26-yard line. On 3 rd and 3, Mark Sanchez threw an easy pass to rookie WR Stephen Hill, who was all alone at the 14 yard line. There wasn’t a DB within five yards of him. He ran a stop route and turned. Sanchez’ pass was right in the numbers. The play wouldn’t have been a touchdown, but Hill would have easily gotten inside the 10-yard line as the clock would have hit the 2:00 warning. New England would have had to stop the Jets three times, and possibly use all of their time outs in the process. A touchdown would have nearly been a certainty, seeing how easily the Jets had moved the ball all day against their defense. New York would have had a four-point lead and forced the Patriots to score a touchdown on their ensuing possession, which would have been incredibly difficult with a lack of time outs and time remaining. In all likelihood, the Jets would have won the game.

Instead, Stephen Hill dropped it. A rookie mistake, trying to turn and run before he caught it. NFL.com Around the League writer and fellow Jets fan Dan Hanzus and I looked at each other and our eyes said it all: That was it. That was the game. Same old Jets. We had it right there. The ball fell to the ground, the Jets kicked a field goal and went on to lose the game. Their season slowly deteriorated from there. That was the true tipping point for Gang Green. Had Hill caught the pass, the Jets, despite all their injuries and controversy, are in first place in the AFC East near the midway point of the season. And their year unfolds differently – playing with confidence knowing that after all they’d been through they were at the top of the division. I know the Butt Fumble is going to be the blooper highlight that gets played over and over again when people get fired and cut, but the Hill drop was the true crushing moment of 2012 for the Jets. I just went back and watched it again and it was just as painful as it was the first time – knowing that while the ball is in the air the possibilities for the Jets are all still there for them. And when it hit the ground, they weren’t.

by: Jason Smith
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Our Favorite NFL Images of the Year – 2012 NFL-ballooza

chrisjohnsonshoe

Chris Johnson showing his support. #SHES #NYJvsTEN

megatrondad

Father and son. #megatron #chasinghistory #thenflseason

touchdown

Touchdown! #photooftheday #thenflseason #amazing #picoftheday

flipwilson

Flip Wilson. #NOvsNYG #thenflseason

kaepernick

Cold rainy night in New England. #SFvsNE (@amsprecher/NFL)

obama

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Does this look LIKE you?

 Images via Facebook and Instagram

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Check out more 2012 NFL-ballooza content:

Top Ten NFL Pop Culture Moments in 2012
5 Favorite NFL Research Nuggets
Our Favorite NFL Images of the Year
The Drop – The Jets Season Explained in One Play
The Year on the Fringe…Fantasy
My Favorite 2012 Football Card – Tim Tebow
Unexpected (and expected) Year in Review
Memories of Experiencing Chuck Strong

5 Favorite NFL Research Nuggets – 2012 NFL-ballooza

1. With Redskins QB Robert Griffin III’s win at Saints in Week 1 and QB Kirk Cousins’ Week 15 win at Browns, the Redskins became the first team in a non-strike season to have two different rookie quarterbacks win their first career starts in the same season, since rookies John Elway and Gary Kubiak won their starting debuts with the 1983 Broncos.

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2. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime three times this season, the most ever by a rookie since at least the 1970 merger.

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3. Colts QB Andrew Luck led seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, which ties the highest single season total by an NFL quarterback (rookie or veteran) since 1970.   To put this achievement in context, Peyton Manning has seven game-winning drives in his last 38 regular-season games.  Tom Brady has seven in his last 63 games.

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4.The Carolina Panthers won their last 4 games after starting the season 3-9.  During those first 12 games, the Panthers went 0-for-12 on pre-game coin tosses and lost the overtime coin flip in their Week 11 loss to the Buccaneers.  The odds of a team losing 13 straight coin tosses are 1 in 8,192.

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5. The 12-4 Houston Texans have been outscored by at least 12 points in each of their 4 losses this season. Those three losses have come by a combined 75 points; by comparison, the 12-4 Patriots have been outscored by a combined total of 11 points in their 4 losses.

By: Jeff Greenholtz

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Top Ten NFL Pop Culture Moments in 2012 – 2012 NFL-ballooza

1. Rex Ryan: Oscar Nominee?

What was the biggest bit of acting from the Jets this season? Rex Ryan in the Adam Sandler vehicle “That’s My Boy” or the Jets masquerading as a playoff contender deep into the season?

2. Donald Driver wins Dancing With The Stars

Years after he perfected the Lambeau Leap, Donald Driver took his dancing shoes to ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Like Emmitt Smith and Hines Ward before him, Driver took the mirror ball trophy. Does a Lombardi loom in his future this year?

3. Heinz Ward and the Steelers in The Dark Knight Rises

Hines-Ward
Associated Press

The Dark Knight had many unbelievable moments. Like why did the Gotham City Police Department walk in a straight line. But the biggest one? Might have been Hines Ward getting behind the defense to score a touchdown. You can only suspend belief so much.

4. Bollywood takes over the NFL

Bollywood took over NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football coverage as Priyanka Chopra sang the opening number. Servers almost crashed as viewers scrambled to Google to type in her name.

5. Hollywood Bootcamp

NFL players have been no strangers to the silver screen, as many big name stars have made the leap to Hollywood. But a small group of NFL players and alumni took a crack at both sides of the camera in the Hollywood Boot Camp this summer.

6. Gangam Style Invades

Gangam Style invaded the NFL, as the latest dance craze was blended in with end zone celebrations. We’re still hopeful for a return of the Macarena.

7. The Art of Ice-T

What was the greatest football movie of all-time? Ice-T dropped by the NFL Network studios to weigh in.

8. Standing by Jerry O’Connell

Who was a better fantasy performer, Philip Rivers or Peyton Manning? For the former Jerry Maguire co-star, Jerry O’Connell, it was simply a matter of surf or ski?

9. Make-ups and Break-Ups

mark-sanchez-eva-longoria
Associated Press

It was a tough year for Jets quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. Both lost the starting gig to Greg McElroy in Week 16, and went through high-profile breakups with Eva Longoria and Camilla respectively. But for Christian Ponder, he got the Vikings on the cusp of the playoffs and snagged Samantha Steele.

10. Saved by the Harbaugh

When faced with a tough quarterback call between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh knew exactly how Jesse Spano felt when she suspended A.C. Slater for the big game in an episode of “Saved by the Bell.” Harbaugh opened up about his appearance on the cult classic.

by: Adam Rank

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Madden curse watch week 17: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

Historically, players who are featured on the cover of the “Madden NFL” franchise experience significant drops in their offensive production. NFL.com is tracking the performance of Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions over the course of the 2012 season because we believe Johnson will debunk the Madden curse.

Week 17 has finally arrived. The Detroit Lions will not be returning to the playoffs, and since Calvin Johnson had already claimed the record for receiving yards in a single season, the Lions looked to play spoiler to the playoff hopes of their division rival Chicago Bears.

Let’s see just how far Megatron pushed his record, and if the Bears were able to triumph on the road and keep their playoff hopes alive.

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FIRST QUARTER

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The Lions receive the opening kickoff, and after two short Mikel Leshoure runs, Matthew Stafford is pressured on third down and forced to throw it away.

After receiving the punt the Bears waste no time going to work, as Jay Cutler finds Alshon Jeffrey for a deep completion down the sideline to the Lions 27-yard line.

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2012 NFL-ballooza – Our Year in Review

NFL-Collage

2012. What can we say? The Mayans were obviously wrong. Thank goodness because the NFL experienced quite a year of amazement from the Giants improbable Super Bowl win against the New England Patriots to this season’s comebacks of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson to the establishment of the 2012 rookie QB class of Andrew Luck, RG3 and Russell Wilson.

So, relax and enjoy as our staff takes you back to the good, the bad, and the memorable of 2012.  We present to you, dear reader, our 2012 NFL-ballooza.

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1. Top 10 2012 NFL Pop Culture Moments

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Rex Ryan: Oscar Nominee?

What was the biggest bit of acting from the Jets this season? Rex Ryan in the Adam Sandler vehicle “That’s My Boy” or the Jets masquerading as a playoff contender deep into the season?

Click here to check out the rest of the list

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2. Favorite NFL Research Nuggets

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1. With Redskins QB Robert Griffin III’s win at Saints in Week 1 and QB Kirk Cousins’ Week 15 win at Browns, the Redskins became the first team in a non-strike season to have two different rookie quarterbacks win their first career starts in the same season, since rookies John Elway and Gary Kubiak won their starting debuts with the 1983 Broncos.

Click here to check the rest of the nuggets

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3. Our Favorite Images of the Year

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flipwilson

Flip Wilson. #NOvsNYG #thenflseason

Click here to check out rest of the images

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 4. The Drop – The Jets Season Explained in One Play

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I make no apologies for being a Jets fan. In fact, they should apologize to me for 2012, but we’ll save that for another day. Despite a lack of wins, they stayed in the headlines all year long. For every circus attraction that was their season, the biggest moment wasn’t the Butt Fumble, or the Sanchez Drama. Or the Rex Ryan drama. Or the Tebow drama. Okay, there was a lot of drama. In fact, more drama than victories, for sure. BUT. (Not Butt as in fumble) BUT. What never gets talked about was a moment that could have not only saved the Jets season, but possibly catapulted them to the playoffs.

Check out the rest of Jason’s column here

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5. My Favorite 2012 Football Card – Tim Tebow – Topps Chrome #180

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tebowcard

Tim Tebow passing stats: 6 for 8, 0 touchdowns, 39 passing yards

Like John Keat’s Grecian Urn this Tim Tebow card above will remain frozen in time.  By now the season has concluded and Tebow’s days of being a Jet trickle down to his inevitable departure to Jacksonville.  As a Jets fan and a Gator alum, I can’t help but meditate on the possibilities of what may have been, the miracles that could have happened, and the Tebowing that will never be be…

Check out the rest of Amar’s rant here

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6. The Year on the Fringe…Fantasy

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It’s all sorts of fun to sit around and figure out who was fantasy football’s best player (Adrian Peterson) or best rookie (Robert Griffin III) and any number of other top awards. But what about some of the fringe fantasy honors that too often go overlooked?

Check out the rest here

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7. Unexpected (and expected) Year in Review

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The 2012 regular season has come to a close and what a year it was. Here’s a look at the most Unexpected (and expected) outcomes of the year.

Check out the rest of this year’s Unexpected and (expected) here

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8. Memories of Experiencing Chuck Strong

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Even though the team I was rooting for lost, to this day I am still glad I was there. It was the start of one of the best stories of the 2012 NFL season, and an instance where the country was able to see again that football is more than a game as it pulled a community together. The day I’m referring to is when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Green Bay Packers, and ChuckStrong became a part of the NFL lexicon.

The game took place a mere six days after news broke about Chuck Pagano’s diagnosis of a treatable form of leukemia. Hearts were heavy at Lucas Oil stadium, but most were optimistic about Pagano’s recovery. It was great to see players on both sides of the game respond by wearing #ChuckStrong t-shirts under their uniforms.

Despite the aura surrounding the game, early on it looked like a Packers rout would sour the mood in Indianapolis. The Packers were up 21-3 at halftime, and received the second half kickoff. That was, until, this happened.

Read the rest of Alex’s story here

The Rewind: Record zones, Eric Dickerson cardboard bio, and best 2012 NFL draft picks

We hope you all had a wonderful end to the holiday week as we all prepare for New Years’ Eve, and a wild week 17 in the NFL. We didn’t let the holidays slow us down, as we churned out a fresh batch of great content for you to consume. Enjoy.

Record Zones: 

Follow the record-breaking pursuits of J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith, and Adrian Peterson with these handy zones:

Record Zone

J.J. Watt Zone

Aldon Smith Zone

Adrian Peterson Zone

The Cardboard Bio:

We profiled the careers of Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson through their playing cards.

Best Draft Picks of 2012:

We began a look back at some of the best picks from the 2012 NFL draft not named Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson.

First Round

Second & Third Round

Stay tuned for more entertaining NFL related content on the Sidelines Blog. Until next time…

The Cardboard Bio – Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson has a chance to break Eric Dickerson’s hallowed single-season rushing record. The Los Angeles Rams runner rushed for 2,105 yards in 1984, in just his second season in the NFL. Peterson also challenged Dickerson’s rookie record, too, before he fell short, so this isn’t the first time the  two have tangled.

With that in mind, we take a look back at the careers of Dickerson and Peterson through trading cards in a little feature we like to call The Cardboard Bio.

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ERIC DICKERSON
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1984 Topps Rookie Card #280

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Here Eric Dickerson looks contemplative, as if he’s calculating how much of a pay cut he took from SMU to the frugal Los Angeles Rams.

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The best draft picks from rounds 2-3 not named Russell Wilson

Yesterday I profiled the five best first round draft picks not named Andrew Luck or RG3, so today I’m continuing that trend and featuring the best players from the next two rounds not named Russell Wilson. Since Wilson is the most recognized name after the top two picks and was drafted in the third round, I wanted to give some love to the many great players making an impact that were drafted in rounds two and three who are living in the enormous shadow cast by Luck, RG3, and Wilson.

Here are eight rookies from the second and third round that you may have forgotten about. Let’s get to it.

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