On Sunday afternoon, CBS Sports delivered a telecast of the Ravens' 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals that was worthy of prime time.
In fact, the first half was as good a half of NFL TV coverage as I have seen all year -- and that includes my adoration of “NBC Sunday Night Football.”
For those readers who are about to faint at the notion of me praising CBS Sports so lavishly, all I can say is facts are facts. And the fact is CBS delivered the goods Sunday.
And don’t worry, I'm not going to get totally carried and ignore all the ways analyst Dan Dierdorf still annoyed me. I'll get to him later.
The energy level from the first moments of the telecast blew me away. Greg Gumbel, whose lethargy in some games has driven me to the brink of madness, seemed to be on the edge of his chair and coming out of his seat toward the camera as he set the pre-game stage.
And instead of some static shot of him and analyst Dierdorf yakking away, director Suzanne Smith and producer Mark Wolff had the CBS cameras in the tunnel under the stadium as the fog machines started cranking and the players bounced around waiting to be introduced.
Furthermore, Smith's direction took me back to the tunnel several times during the pre-game -- not only making me feel as if I was in stadium, but in a special place I couldn't be even if I had the best tickets in the house.
What a great choice -- having that one backstage camera. It made all the difference in the world in instantly transporting me to M&T Bank Stadium.
Smith is my MVP for the day. She had her cameras right down on the sideline from the opening moments of the game giving me field-level shots and close-ups of players and coaches. And there were her cameras at the end in a tight-focus replay shot of Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s stressed-out face as his eyes tracked the arc of Justin Tucker’s winning field goal in overtime.
And typical of her deft touch, viewers were taken in replay right from Harbaugh’s face to a tight shot of Tucker’s victory dance after the kick cleared the crossbar. This is what NFL television is supposed to look like -- not lazy, wide-angle, static shots covering half the field like we had most of the game last week against the Cleveland Browns.
I don’t think Smith’s crew missed a major replay all day. And if they didn’t have it right away, viewers saw it right after a timeout or commercial. With 11 minutes, 19 seconds left in the second quarter, Dierdorf blamed a poor pass from Joe Flacco on Ray Rice, the Ravens’ hapless running back, missing a block on a Bengals linebacker blitzing up the middle.
I didn’t see the missed block and was irritated when it wasn’t shown after the next play. But as soon as the telecast came back from commercial, there it was just as Dierdorf had described it.
Really, it was as if I watched the game on Bizarro Planet and everything I have hated all year about CBS telecasts of the Ravens games was suddenly reversed and the telecast was done the right way -- with the goal of enhancing the viewing experience.
Last week, for example, CBS missed the start of live plays because they were caught in replays -- sometimes of action that didn’t matter.
But this week, Wolff and Smith used a split screen when they thought the replay might clip the live action, with the replay on one side and the game in real time on the other. As the replay ended, they would go to line-action full screen -- which usually added up to the best of both worlds.
This is the truly Bizarro Planet observation: According to my notes, I did not see one in-game promotion for any stinking CBS shows during the entire first quarter.
The telecast lost some of its keen-eyed focus in the second half.
With 8:39 left in the third, we were never shown a replay of A.Q. Shipley being injured. We only saw him walking off the field trying to get the feeling back in his hands.
And with 14:33 left in the fourth quarter, Elvis Dumervil came up with another superb, strong-arm sack. But instead of seeing it in replay as I wanted to, I was shown two replays of Bengals receivers being covered.
As for Dierdorf, he called Torrey Smith Jimmy Smith with 6:26 left in the second quarter as viewers were shown a replay of Smith’s soaring touchdown catch.
And then to make matters worse, Dierdorf did that truly ignorant and annoying thing of making up dialogue.
As Smith gave us a replay closeup of Marshal Yanda hoisting Smith on his shoulder after the catch, Dierdorf chimed in with, “And Marshal Yanda says, ‘You know what, that’s the way I like it.’”
During the Bengals opening drive of the second half, Dierdorf told viewers, “This is the drive that the Bengals talked about at halftime in their locker room.”
He quickly acknowledged he hadn’t actually been in the Bengals locker room, but added, “I’ll guarantee [Bengals coach Marvin Lewis] told them this is the recipe…”
I wasn’t in the production truck, but I’m guessing Wolff or Smith got in Dierdorf’s ear instantly and told him to clarify those remarks about the locker room — and not ruin this telecast with any more of his gasbag ways.