Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV

CBS delivers great pictures in Ravens' horrible 31-27 loss to Bengals

CBS Sports gave us great pictures Sunday of what has to be one of the most-horrible losses in Ravens history.

I don't know if I should be happy or sad or about having been able to get such a good look at this team as it blew a spot in the playoffs with a 31-27 last-minute defeat to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.

But I have come to believe this season that there is nothing more important for an NFL telecast than getting the pictures right. We can listen to radio play-by-play and analysis if we want, but we cannot get the pictures anywhere else. When the visuals are delivered as skillfully as they were Sunday, you can turn the sound off and still have a great viewing experience.

CBS got all the visuals right, and they did it the old-fashioned way: with tight shots of the line of scrimmage to the point where you could see breath and other things (I’m being delicate) coming out of the noses and mouths of linemen prior to and at the end of some plays.

One tight shot in the final minutes of a Ravens defensive lineman’s face mask filled with saliva and mucous as he gasped for breath was worth 10 times anything NBC did visually this year in prime time with its stupid SkyCam coverage.

That SkyCam silliness from NBC is one of things that made me come to so appreciate good visuals above all else. I don’t want my NFL games to look like a video game when I watch them on TV, and the battle between the Ravens and Bengals never did. It reminded me in a good way of the titanic struggles in Green Bay that I watched as kid growing up in Wisconsin — and that was largely due to the straight-ahead, traditional style of photography.

From the opening of the telecast, CBS understood that visuals were the best way to help fans understand how cold it was in the M&T Bank Stadium stands. They gave us the wind whipping the flag shot, but the best images were those of the Ravens fans looking like they were dressed for a game in Green Bay or Buffalo. (Yes, that Buffalo, the team that got into the playoffs thanks to the Ravens’ loss.) I loved that we kept getting fan shots coming in and out of breaks throughout the game.

But the best visuals of all were the replays. CBS didn’t miss any by count, and they regularly had more than one angle on the most controversial ones. They didn’t just show a ball coming loose from a receiver’s hand, they showed the defender’s hand getting inside the receiver’s and stripping it loose at least twice.

And on every controversial play, we were given multiple angles.

With 9:28 left in the third quarter, Mike Wallace caught a sideline pass and got hit in mid-air. It was ruled a catch, but replay showed one of his feet never touching the ground as he flew out of bounds. The catch was overturned.

There was not one play during the entire game that I felt incapable of making a clear call on thanks to the CBS cameras and replays. The focus and coordination in that production truck among the director and cameras was superb.

And thank you, CBS, for not trying to cloak how empty the stands were. The stadium shot viewers were given as the ball was being placed for the opening kickoff showed an upper deck that didn’t even look half full. The lower deck didn’t look all that much better. I have seen telecasts where they tried to only shoot tight shots in the stands to mask attendance issues. CBS didn’t do that, and I trusted the production for it from the very start.

Beyond the images, the CBS production was more of a mixed bag — far more good than bad, though.

The best thing about Dan Fouts’ analysis was him picking up in the second half on the way injuries to linebackers for the Bengals made them vulnerable to short- and middle-range passes over the middle, particularly to Mike Wallace. The inexperienced linebackers who were on the field for the Bengals were incapable of covering those routes, and Joe Flacco was feeding on those mismatches.

I wish Fouts would go deeper into strategy. He is a smart guy. But I have come to accept that is just not him. If you want that, wait for Tony Romo to do your team’s game.

Play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle brought great enthusiasm and energy to the telecast. As a critic, I applaud him. As a fan, I thank him.

He also made a real effort to try and capture the enormity of the last-minute swing after the Bengals scored a touchdown on 4th down and 12 yards to go.

“The Ravens were one down away from the playoffs,” he said dramatically.

After the Ravens failed on their fourth down try and the final seconds ticked off, he went for a final summing up with, “The Ravens season ends with a thud.”

It felt a lot worse than a thud, but it was a good try. And for someone a little less biased than this Ravens fan, it is probably a fairly apt description of what it felt like looking down at the stadium from his perch.

Thanks for the pictures, CBS, but not the memories of this bitter defeat that won’t soon be forgotten.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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