I used to think reviewing any Baltimore Ravens telecast with Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel in the broadcast booth was about as bad as things could get on my beat.
I thought the 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans would never end. I went to my iPhone (about a thousand times), I went to the WBAL radio broadcast (to see if anyone was trying to explain the malaise of Joe Flacco and his receivers), and I went to the refrigerator (about 2,000 times and I wasn't even a little hungry). If I had any alcohol in my house, I'd be roaring drunk, I swear.
Again, Dierdorf and Gumbel came in with a storyline, and they were absolutely unable to shift, modify or re-imagine it to explain what was happening on the field. Yes, the Ravens defense is badly damaged by injuries. That's a big storyline. And Terrell Suggs coming back for 31 plays is a huge storyline, too.
But a shocking and scary-going-forward development for Ravens fans Sunday was the dismal performance by the offense -- particularly the incredible, shrinking play of quarterback Joe Flacco, who got that distant, hooded look in his eyes early on and spent the day acting like he had taken a trip to the faraway and lost place that President Barack Obama went to during the first debate instead of showing up.
And Dierdorf and Gumbel never, never, never, never started to explain what was happening to the Ravens offense -- all afternoon. They just stuck with the two twiddle-dee and twiddle-dum things they knew: The Ravens defense was really "banged up," as Dierdorf put it, and how "amazing" it was for Suggs to be on the field.
Yes, true to both. But there was another big story in the offensive meltdown, and competent announcers would have explained to viewers why and how they thought it was happening.
This is as close as Dierdorf, the analyst, got Sunday:
When the Texans completed a pass to a wide-open receiver with 6:18 left in the third quarter, Dierdorf said, "Joe Flacco's got to be watching this from the other sideline, going, 'How come my guys aren't as wide open as the guys in red?'"
Hearing Flacco's name called, the director gave viewers a shot of Flacco on the sideline at 6:14, but the Ravens quarterback wasn't watching at all. He was sitting way back on the bench, talking on the phone and looking down at a playbook.
"Obviously, Joe's not watching it," Dierdorf said after the contradictory image was up on the screen. "He's on the phone. But the reality of it is that the Houston receivers are giving [Houston quarterback] Matt Schaub a lot of very attractive targets."
Later, with 6:38 left in the game, Dierdorf offered this explanation: "That's a big strike Baltimore team, and you can see it's been completely taken away. And you know what? Wade Phillips deserves some credit."
That's it? Of course, the defensive coordinator for the Texans deserves some credit. Duh.
Tell us something we don't know, like what went wrong with the Ravens. Are you saying it was totally a case of being outcoached by a defensive coordinator? I don't think so, because the only other time Dierdorf called Phillips' name was on the all-out blitz that resulted in a safety that gave the Texans their first two points.
Actually, Dierdorf called Phillips' name twice on that blitz. The first time, the director failed to give us a sideline shot of the defensive coordinator. Typical of the slow reactions of the entire production team, we only got the sideline shot when Dierdorf called Phillips' name again on the replay.
With 4:44 left in the game, Dierdorf refined his analysis to say it's been "just a tough day" for the Ravens.
I think CBS Sports can do better than that. Brian Billick might be a third- or fourth-string Fox analyst, but I'll bet he could have deconstructed the Ravens' offensive misery inside and out.
But there is a deeper problem with saying what Flacco or some other player is thinking when you don't really know it to be true: It makes you sound like a gas bag -- like you are just making it up and we in the audience should believe you because you once played the game.
Both Dierdorf and Gumbel speak a puffed-up language of false import.
For example, at the top of the game, Gumbel welcomed viewers to the telecast by saying, "To say that it is an excited crowd here at Reliant Stadium is to put it mildly."
How about, "There's a very excited crowd here at Reliant Stadium today"?
They speak in that kind of portentous and pretentious manner a lot. To be fair, they aren't the only ones in sports broadcast booths who do it. But I'm only reviewing them this week.
And I am not even going to explore how many times this duo missed a defensive player tipping a pass Sunday. Once Dierdorf said Flacco's pass hit a defensive lineman in the chest when, in fact, he blocked it with his arm. He corrected himself only when he saw the replay.
In the interest of fairness to CBS Sports, the pre-game show did an excellent job of covering the Ravens' injury situation coming into the game. In fact, the crew's overall reporting and discussion of injuries throughout the league was outstanding, including the discussion featuring the show's medical consultant, Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
Shannon Sharpe was especially strong, with his Ravens interviews ranging from John Harbaugh to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
Sharpe's insights were terrific, too.
In delivering his pre-game prediction, he said, "This game is tailor-made for Joe Flacco to step up to the next level."
He then picked the Texans.
Good call, Shannon.