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Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 16, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Jason La Canfora was online Thursday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m. ET, to take your questions about the Redskins, their loss to St. Louis, the punting problems, the signing of Shaun Alexander and this weekend's game against Cleveland.

The transcript follows.

Read Jason's blog, Redskins Insider.

Full coverage: Washington Redskins

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Jason La Canfora: Crazy league, eh? Last week I was overrun with questions about the inevitable Super Bowl run, being 7-1, how the Redskins had solved anything that ever ailed them.

Today, just guessing here, but it may be all death and mayhem and the sky falling ...

In reality, neither scenario is reality, and it's week-to-week up here.

We still have a ton of football to play, no matter what happens this Sunday, I expect another close game this weekend. It's part of what the NFL so darn interesting.

Okay, with my BS intro out of the way, have at me.

(iPod is back and on shuffler - "Digsby's Dinner" Oasis

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Washington, D.C.: Jason,

The Redskins already have a backup RB in Rock Cartwright, and could even use Mike Seller's as a RB (I thought they had a rookie too, Mason?). If Betts is only out a couple of weeks, why don't the skins just use their backup RBs instead of going out and signing Alexander? After all isn't that what backups RB are for?

If the Redskins don't have faith in their backup RB then why do they keep them as a backup? It just seems ironic.

I know Cartwright has not played very much this season as RB -- but Alexander hasn't even been in the NFL this season.

Thanks

Jason La Canfora: I don't blame them for making a move to improve depth in the short term, and Rock plays on every special teams unit beyond just returning kicks. I thought Marcus Mason -- who is on the Ravens practice squad -- made maybe more sense, and the Skins seriously considered it (Mason's issues in pass protection factored in).

But Alexander's experience and skillset - particularly catching balls out of the backfield in a West Coast system -- and Zorn's history with him ... That all makes sense. They didn't have to part with anything other than a little cash to get him. Remains to be seen of Shaun is anything close to football shape, in terms of taking hits, and don't count out Rock still getting a few carries in Ladell's absence.

"I'm a Long Gone Daddy" - Hank Williams

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Manassas, Va.: Who are the starting safeties this week? Is Devin Thomas going to play more?

Jason La Canfora: If Chris Horton is out, then Kareem Moore might have to start opposite Landry. The new guy, Mike Green, was supposed to be inactive, but with two safeties gone and Horton hardly a lock to be active with his ankle injury, Greg Blache said he may have him up. Starting him would be out of the question, though, because he has been out of football for like 8 months and just got here.

I think you will see a fair amount of Shawn Springs at safety, too.

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Tucson, Ariz.: A championship caliber team has to destroy a team like the Rams at home right? Any chance the Redskins aren't as good as we thought?

Jason La Canfora: I don't think you have to blow them out, and even a bad loss or two won't cripple you. It's how you respond to that. If you get over it, no worries. If you follow it up with another stinker, well, now you're changing the tenor of your season and messing with the psyche a little.

The Browns will be a solid test, make no mistake. They will give up points for sure, but on their day they can score plenty, too.

"Jock-O-Rama" - Dead Kennedys

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Chicago: Jason:

What's the word on Jason Taylor? Has he recovered significantly from his injury/surgery?

Jason La Canfora: He's still not 100 percent, and Blache said he ended up playing more than they had anticipated last week. He has been largely ineffective, and all the time missed (especially practice time) with various injuries has conspired against him.

I think a full week of practice this week should be pretty huge for him, and the bottom line is he was acquired to give this team, finally, a serious pass rushing thrust. My thought all along was at 34, save him for 15-18 real bursts -- third down, some second and short -- and let Demetric Evans be that Phillip Daniels-type, helping stuff the run. That helps make this system go.

In the end that may be what Taylor ends up doing. In the next few weeks he's a guy you have to look at to find his form and make plays.

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Punters: Jason,

Why can't a great college punter translate to the NFL? What changes from college to the pros?

Also, this should ensure that Vinny never again uses a draft pick on a punter!

Thanks.

Jason La Canfora: These guys will tell you that the pressure, nerves and stakes are just so much higher. People's careers are on the line, it's a billion-dollar industry, every little thing is magnified. Your "scholarship" at this level is not guaranteed. The contract isn't. And punters aren't getting real signing bonuses.

Your career as a young punter/kicker is week to week. That's a tough burden for anyone, much less a 22-year old kid living out his dreams.

Give it some time. He had to go for now, but don't write him off completely. It takes several years, and sometimes a change of scenery or two, for them to figure it out. But yes, considering all of that, that's why you don't see too many teams using draft picks on them.

"Never Had A Dream Come True" - Stevie Wonder (weird how iPod syncs up with the questions sometimes, eh? Just have it on shuffle. No funny business here).

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Moab, Utah: Regarding that stand-up UFO defense that Cleveland has been playing -- wouldn't an audible at the line for a running play be able to get big chunks of yards against it? With the defensive line standing up, the offensive line could more easily push them back.

Jason La Canfora: I would be running a check-with-me run game if nothing else. That is odd to look at, isn't it? I'm not sure how effective it really would be against a team that's going to try to blow you up on the edge in the run game like the Skins, but I guess we'll find out.

"Forced Labor" - Circle Jerks

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Tampa, Fla.: Jason, you made a point a few weeks ago to talk a little about Jim Zorn's contract and how he doesn't have the power to renegotiate if he wins the Super Bowl. What are the primary salaries of his deal, or has it not been released?

Jason La Canfora: Are you sure that was me making that point? I don't recall it. There is no clause of that ilk as far as I know, but I don't remember that ever coming up before.

He got a three-year deal with two one year club options -- so three years are guaranteed at about $3 million a season.

"New Amsterdam" - Elvis Costello

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Dear Mr. La Canfora,

Can you provide a reason for the ineptitude of the Skins pass rush? Has the way Jason Taylor performed even been an upgrade over Philip Daniels?

Jason La Canfora: They have lacked a young, dynamic pass rushing force on the line for a long, long time. They have neglected this aspect of play in the draft for like 12 years now - since taking Kennard Lang high -- and it has been a bit mindboggling to chronicle.

And no, to this point I'll take Phillip's stoutness against the run over what Taylor has provided, but, again, it's still early and the game simply has not been on the field much. Let's see what he's doing in another month.

"Moonage Daydream" - David Bowie

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Reston, Va.: Carlos "Double Move" Rogers has not only come back from a serious knee injury, but he seems to have developed into a better than average corner compared to his first few years (I know it's still early in the season). What do you attribute this to, a better overall defensive scheme or teams just not picking on him like they did in the past?

"Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" - Wham

Jason La Canfora: He's been better than "above average" my friend. He's been a stud. He's lined up opposite some bigtime guys -- Fitzgerald, Owens after Springs went down, DeSean Jackson, Torry Holt -- and nearly shut them all down every play.

Teams are throwing on him less because he's locking people down. And the health side of the thing has been pretty incredible too.

By all accounts, the injury led to Carlos adopting a healthier attitude about his craft, watching more video, welcoming more help from veterans, not simply counting on his physical gifts as much, honing his technique.

He could be looking at a big extension himself in the offseason.

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Annandale, Va.: Will the Skins make an effort to get Santana more involved this week. I don't know much about the Browns this year, but I know their secondary was pretty weak last year and gave up a lot of big plays.

Any chance Bob Bradley gets fired soon and the USA hires a real coach? He is a joke, barely qualified to coach in the MLS. I guess it doesn't matter because England is winning the world cup this year. Rule Brittania!

Jason La Canfora: It's not about effort -- Zorn called a ton of stuff for Moss in particular, but right now teams are eliminating the big play, double him over the top with a safety, and, fearing Campbell's big arm, playing a ton of Cover-2.

So that explains why Portis is getting out-numbered situations in the box and why the run game is flourishing. Teams are picking their poison.

You counter that by feeding Cooley and ARE intermediate stuff, and the lack of any sort of impact from Thomas, drafted to be a deep threat, is a big factor as well, and doing Moss no favors.

It's cyclical and I expect to see more bubble screens for Moss and shorter stuff to give him chances for YAC.

But the intent is there.

As for Bradley -- he never should have been hired. This isn't progress; not close. He never gives the kids a real chance in competitive games -- you know, actually letting Donovan and Adu link up, or Altidore and Bradley -- and then, when the games don't matter, he throws a ton of them out there at once, without anything resembling the usual spine of the team.

Last night's loss to me wasn't even the tip of the iceberg as to why he never should have had this job. That didn't even matter.

But that dude, and Gulati, are bulletproof. They got a joke of an easy gift. Our 1986 national team could have qualified through that group.

And it will take some screwups not to secure at least the 4th berth in the hexagonal. Again, this is not progress. This is not a world class manager. It's third-world tactics far too often.

"Foxhole" - Television

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Tarboro, N.C.: Whassup J La C. Hope this gets in. I am finished with this prognosticating business. I said the 'Skins would beat Dallas and said the Skins could beat the Iggles if focused. But I went to far in saying that the Rams could come in here and beat the 'Skins last week. In watching the Browns dismantle what was supposed to be the best in the NFL, I am worried again. What's your take on the Browns/'Skins game. Cheers and peace out bro.

Jason La Canfora: This is no gimme. Not close.

If they can slam the ball on the ground and tire Rogers out in the second half, I like their chances. The Browns are getting better corner play, but I'm still gonna try to take several shots in the 25-40 yard range.

I think you have to score 24-27 to win, because I don't see them Browns getting shut out. The Skins secondary is much better than New York's, but that team has some ability on offense.

"Til The End Of The Day" - The Kinks

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New Orleans: Approximately how many carries will Shaun Alexander have in Sunday's game?

Jason La Canfora: Hmm. I'd guess maybe 5.

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Brooklyn, Ohio: Carlos Rogers appears to be making the "leap" to stardom. Do you think that he can get better the further he gets away from his knee injury? Also, when are the 'Skins going to pay him and JC? We don't need another Champ Bailey situation here.

Jason La Canfora: He should only keep getting better at this, for sure.

I would use this offseason to purge a few bigger contract and absolutely rededicate those fund to Carlos and Jason. Even with them potentially being just restricted free agents and not UFAs given this CBA madness, I wouldn't risk a monster offer sheet or any shenanigans.

That should be priority No. 1 this offseason to me.

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Punting: I'm confused about the punting issue. I understand the mental issues for kickers but where's the pressure in punting? You're just booting the ball.

Jason La Canfora: You try just standing at midfield in from of 90,000 people, with all of these massive human beings counting on you, and an entire legion of fans ... and just try to make a few decent long snaps, much less execute a 50 yard punt.

If it was cake, dude, we'd all be doing. Lord knows the NFL minimum salary would go a long ways in my household.

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Brunswick, Md.: Jason,

Why wouldn't the Skins place Durant Brooks on IR as opposed to cutting him? Is it about not wanting to pay him? If they thought enough of his talent to draft him ahead of Horton, why not stash him away and give him another crack at it next training camp?

Jason La Canfora: He will most certainly be placed on IR. He had to clear waivers first, and I'd be stunned if he got claimed. So they IR him after that paper transaction.

As I said earlier, don't write him off forever, just for this season.

"Blister In The Sun" - Violent Femmes (apologize for that, again, we're just going on shuffle. that song has become so played out)

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South Riding, Va.: Who is better? Jansen as a run blocker or Heyer as a pass blocker?

Jason La Canfora: I go with Jansen in those terms ... But problems is one slip in pass pro and your QB is hurting. I don't think we know how good Heyer is yet -- never really get to see him for like 6 straight weeks in the same role, and against some bigtime competition -- but Zorn is a supporter of his for sure.

"I" - Bad Brains

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L'enfant Plaza: Jason--

Realistically, how hard is it to find a DECENT punter? Are there really fewer decent punters than NFL teams? The Redskins haven't had a competent punter in a decade. Why don't they try bringing in an Aussie rules football player, a la Sav Rocca or Mat McBriar?

Jason La Canfora: I agree that in the offseason they should dug deeper into the Aussie Rules guys. Worth a shot at this point for sure.

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Bethesda, Md.: With all the carries Portis is getting, do you think the Skins will invest one of their higher draft picks on a RB? A player's production generally takes a steep dive after leading the league in carries for two straight years.

Jason La Canfora: Well, he kind of had that dip already following the 2004-2005 workhorse years.

With Betts mostly fresh given his limited role, and Rock still there, I would look at one perhaps in the 6-7 round area, but wouldn't force it. They just gave Portis another $20 million deal, so that's a long-term investment.

"Loretta's Scars" - Pavement

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New Orleans: Do you think Joe Gibbs has been watching most of the games and keeping up on this season's progress?

Jason La Canfora: Honestly, I have no idea. I think our kick-booty NASCAR writer, Liz Clarke, will be catching up with Coach Joe sometime in the near future to see how he's doing. He's generally working on weekends, but maybe he's a Tivo guy?

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Stoyling, Va.: Jason, exactly why did the other three teams pass on Alexander, this year? Unlike the Skins, did they actually see him on the field first? Thanks.

Jason La Canfora: He worked out for Cincy, Detroit and somebody else, maybe New Orleans? Anyway, he made several visits but did not get a contract. Zorn's relationship and insight into him may have helped, but he did not run well for two years, has struggled with injuries and is not as physical as some teams would want (Zorn alluded to this himself yesterday). Pass protection has not been a forte, either.

"Supernova" - Liz Phair

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Columbia, Md.: They should've used the Alexander signing to sign a WR. It is starting to clear up that Kelly needs to be put on IR and just start over in the offseason with him. Marcus Mann didn't play all that badly in the preseason, I'm sure he's available (now that Billy McMullen is a Seahawk -- Mann should be next on the list of calls.)

Jason La Canfora: If Kelly doesn't get right in the next two weeks I expect they will do just that. Mann, Burl Toller, guys like that would be on the emergency list. Hey, Keenan McCardell is still out there too (half-kidding).

I've always been a Jimmy Farris guy, but that's just me (and George Solomon).

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Southwest Drive: Is the fantastic play of the secondary this year more impressive considering that the Skins for the most part have lacked a decent pass rush? Rogers playing Pro Bowl level, Springs (when healthy) is all over his receiver and Horton is just all over the field.

Jason La Canfora: No doubt about it brother. It's the glue keeping this thing together, especially when you look at the potent passing teams they have faced (New Orleans, Arizona, Philly, Dallas).

That development, and JC shining, are the two biggest on-field plotlines to the season, to me.

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Chantilly, Va.: What player do you think the Skins let go this pre-season that they should have kept? McMullen? Mason? Mix?

Jason La Canfora: McMullen was a guy who had size, good hands, ran good routes and knew where to go. A lot of people around here figured he made the team, even if they had to keep 6 WRS to do so.

"You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks" - Funkadelic

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Philadelphia: Do NFL people around the league think Jason Campbell is the "real deal" yet?

Jason La Canfora: A lot of them already did, but just waited to see if there could be a melding of system, coaching and complimentary players around him. It's all taking shape, for sure.

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Punting follow-up: I wasn't talking about snapping and I didn't say that punting was easy as cake.

Brooks obviously has the physical ability to punt. I don't. I just don't understand how a punter can choke. You're just kicking the ball as far as you can.

Jason La Canfora: Again, you tell me what is so easy to execute under intense pressure?

There are only 32 people on the planet doing this at this level every week, right? It's a melding of the mental and the physical, and it's pretty easy to shank a ball, take your eye off it, etc. Just my humble opinion.

"Somewhere" - Soundgarden

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Fairfax, Va.: Is this the year Portis finally gets a nod to the Pro Bowl as a Redskin? Some folks are even talking MVP. He's having his best year as a Skin, but do you think he is really worthy of MVP status so far?

Jason La Canfora: He would have to be up there, for sure.

If he keeps this up there will no lack of accolades.

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Lorton, Va.: Sometimes when watching a game on TV, it's hard to get a feel of how the secondary reacts to certain plays. Do you think the NFL will ever make a channel with the overhead view so those watchers that want to see the whole field will be able to? I think it would be interesting, and would give the fans at home a whole new perspective to how the game works.

Jason La Canfora: That would rock. That's the only way to really see the way all of this goes down. Count me in as the first subscriber if it gets off the ground.

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Time and Temp: So JLC, what was the overall mood of the team after coming back to practice after Sunday's game? Humbled? Embarrassed? No big deal?

Sing The Changes - The Firemen

Jason La Canfora: Hard to say. I always cringe a little bit at this question - 53 players, 20 coaches - not sure there is one mentality for everyone. This is a segmented game in many ways -- offense. defense, teams -- and often those groups perform at desperate levels.

I think hungry would be in order, and we'll know by the first few series Sunday.

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Coral Springs, Fla.: Seems like if teams decide to shut down Santana Moss, they can get it done by man coverage and shadowing a safety on him. Are the Redskins concerned about this?

Jason La Canfora: It's not ideal, and finding a secondary deep threat who the coaches and QB trust would be huge. Sticking with the run, finding Cooley releasing off the line and hitting ARE on those 18 yard crossing routes ain't the worst thing in the world, though, while you work through it.

Again, look for more screens and trickery for Moss, I suspect, and probably his first punt return of the season as well.

"Let's Have A War" - Fear

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Sterling, Va.: Jason, Do you know whether Danny and Vinnie entertained the idea of trying to bring Roy Williams here to DC? If they did, what stopped them from doing so?

Jason La Canfora: They have so many assets already allocated at WR that it doesn't make sense, especially not at that price. Skins were not close to making a trade.

They already gave up the second rounder for Taylor -- you'd be talking about no picks til the 4th round, after just investing your top three picks on pass catchers the year before. That, to me, would be lunacy.

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Columbia, Md.: Aside from last week's game. I have been really impressed with the Skins in the second half. Blache and Zorn must be doing a bang-up job at halftime. Any insight into what is done during halftime?

Jason La Canfora: They are making adjustments, doing a nice job with substitutions, no doubt. Whether adjusting the angles the ends take in the run game, playing more Cover-2, giving JC more of a say in formations ... for the most part it's all been sage stuff.

"The Temple" - The Afghan Whigs

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Anonymous: Jason, I didn't see last week's game and haven't heard anything about Jansen's play. Did he further solidify the argument that he should be the starter? I heard Campbell was sacked a few times - Jansen's fault? Thanks

Jason La Canfora: Things got a little shaky in pass pro, but often the RB ended up at fault. It wasn't the smoothest operation, but he got through it. And the run game was dominant at times, no doubt. They ran power stuff behind RT like a freight train for plays on end, and used the run to overcome a second half deficit for the most part.

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Richmond, Va.: Speaking of the secondary, it's actually why I kind of like my end zone nosebleed seats. I get to see the coverage and watch the routes develop in a way you cannot at field level at the 50 yard line. Maybe I'm trying to justify a bad situation, but still . . .

Love the iPod tunes, especially the punk. I have Hank singing "I'm So Lonesome" on Sirius. BTW, your thoughts on Social D?

Jason La Canfora: I'm with you -- that's not the worst way to watch a game (though when the ball is inside the opposing red zone, well, it's not the best).

I love Social D. Mike Ness is a punk rock/rockabily/honkey tonk legend.

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Columbia, Md.: What is the problem with the punt returns? Is it the 'Skins blocking scheme, the returner or just bad luck?

Jason La Canfora: It's been a little bit of everything. Rock said that guys are stacking up in the same lane too often.

And, to me, Randle El has a way of making things more difficult than they need to be and doing too much lateral and backwards movement, rather than just snatching it and plowing ahead more often.

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Los Angeles: Jason, keep up the good work. My prediction after Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh is 4-5. After the Rams fiasco I don't see them just bouncing back.

Jason La Canfora: Yikes. I can't see that my friend. I thought they would lose 1 of these 3 games (Rams, Browns, Lions) but figured the Browns would be that team.

Losing to the Lions would require a level of ineptitude that we have never seen before. It would have to dwarf the Rams debacle.

I wouldn't put these guys behind the 8-ball just yet.

"Teddy Picker" - Arctic Monkeys

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South Hill, Va.: Is it fair to say that Durant Brooks almost single-handily cost the 'Skins the game against the Rams? His shanked punt allowed the Rams an easy field goal, even though they didn't get a first down. I still feel that Brooks has potential, do you see him possibly getting resigned to the practice squad? I think the Rams loss was a fluke. We were just too dominant in almost every category.

Jason La Canfora: I don't think you can put it all on him. It was a group effort my friend -- Kendall, Rabach, Suisham (that one awful out-of-bounds kickoff), Fletcher, Landry ... A lot of guys had their "Oh, bleep!" moments.

They had to make a change at that position for the morale of the team, and for pure productivity, no doubt. But it wasn't one guy's fault.

"Dirty Old Egg-Suckin Dog" - Cash (Yikes. Again, swear I'm just going on shuffle here).

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Jason La Canfora: Alright guys, my time is up. Thanks as always for the great questions, and if you can, keep some perspective on this whole thing. It's a long season, and there will be more joy, and suffering, to come. That's football.

Sorry for the questions I did not get to, and as always, you can find me on the blog, Redskins Insider, or on email (lacanforaj@washpost.com).

Have a great weekend and enjoy the game.

Cheers.

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