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David Zurawik: CBS gets anthem and most game coverage right

Just as it did last week in London, CBS Sports got it right in covering pregame controversy related to the national anthem.

Before the singing of the anthem, play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle directed viewers to the words of public address announcer Bruce Cunningham as he asked fans at M&T Bank Stadium “to join Ravens players and coaches and the entire Ravens organization to pray that we as a nation embrace kindness, unity, equality and justice for all Americans.”

And then, as the players went down on one knee, many in the stadium booed. At least, that was the dominant sound on my TV.

And in case anyone thought it impossible that fans would boo a prayer for kindness, unity and equality, Eagle came back after a commercial and a report by sideline correspondent Evan Washburn to say, “Prior to the national anthem, Evan, the Ravens did take a knee. There was a reaction from the crowd — mostly boos during that time. Then they stood up for the national anthem.”

I was grateful for the recap by Eagle of what I thought I just saw and heard, because I was one of the viewers who couldn’t quite believe it. But I played the moment back several times on DVR, and the boos are indeed the dominant sound.

I suspect some will try to rewrite that embarrassing moment and possibly even blame CBS Sports somehow for what was shown. But CBS announcers and crew members weren’t the ones booing a moment of prayer.

I can’t wait to see how the homer hometown sportscasters try to spin this Baltimore embarrassment. Maybe it was only Pittsburgh Steelers fans who were booing, huh?

Oh, yeah, the telecast of the game itself.

The last two weeks, the games have seemed like an afterthought. This week’s 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t as bad as last week’s 44-7 blowout to Jacksonville. But any loss to the hated Steelers carries its own kind of special pain.

As much as I would like to give Ravens fans a review that allows them to vent some of their frustration with the team of broadcasters, in fairness, that is not possible. The CBS team led by Eagle and analyst Dan Fouts didn’t deliver a great telecast, but it was more than worthy of what took place on the field Sunday.

Eagle has become one of the strongest play-by-play announcers on television. Every time I see and hear him, he is prepared, is focused and almost never lets his energy wane late in the game.

As he has gained confidence, he has become much better at letting the rhythm of a good, well-played game drive the rhythm of his broadcast.

And yet, when a game goes south or gets out of hand, he knows when to step back in and substitute his energy for what is not happening on the field. There are only a handful of play-by-play announcers who can cut it both ways, and he’s now one of them. He had to provide some of the energy and focus that was lacking late in today’s game.

Fouts has never been one of my favorite analysts. I felt he spent too much time making jokes instead of trying to take fans inside the game. I don’t want lame jokes. I want a once-great quarterback to enhance my enjoyment of the game by taking me inside the thinking and execution on the field.

Fouts did more explaining and less joking Sunday right out of the box.

With 7:48 left in the 1st quarter, Fouts used a replay to show one of the reasons Le’Veon Bell was off to such a fast start: tight ends and offensive linemen pulling out and leading him through the first line of Ravens defenders.

“Now Vance McDonald is going to give him a real good block,” Fouts said as the replay started on 9-yard off-tackle gain for Bell.

“Watch 89 here, he gets right in behind him like he’s a pulling guard for the kickout block. And then comes Bell.”

Pittsburgh was doing a lot of that to open holes for Bell, and the Ravens never seemed to figure out a way to respond.

Late in the game, Fouts went so far as to compare one sweep to the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s glory years of guards Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer leading the way for Paul Hornung.

Being a young Packers fan living in Wisconsin during those years, I appreciated the sense of NFL history — even if the comparison was a stretch.

Fouts did seem to have an inordinate amount of trouble with the name of the Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. But he acknowledged it as a failing on his part. He did not try to make fun of the name as I have heard some announcers do.

He and Eagle were also wrong on how the refs would ultimately rule on two plays that went into review. But, really, who cares? Consider how often the coaches are wrong when they challenge — and it costs their teams a timeout.

Overall, the production was better than the game.

The sequence that best shows the extra effort by the director and producers came with 12:18 left in the first half.

After a failed Steelers pass play on third down, cameras showed wide receiver Antonio Brown holding his arms up in a gesture of frustration.

“Antonio Brown is looking like he was open,” Eagle said.

“Well, let’s see if he was open,” Fouts countered as a replay started to roll. It showed Brown was totally open, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failed to see him.

“My goodness, he would have walked into the end zone,” Fouts said.

But they didn’t stop there in the coverage. CBS kept the cameras on Brown, and a minute later showed him having a temper tantrum on the sideline that included pushing a coach away who tried to cool him down.

I’ll put up with a few mistakes for the kind of camera coverage and analysis CBS provided Sunday.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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