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

Fox telecast rises with level of Ravens play in 44-20 win

Sunday's telecast of the Ravens’ 44-20 win over the Detroit Lions started out a little ragged. But all sins are forgiven for a fourth-quarter stretch in which the broadcast team from Fox did everything right — and then some.

With 9:10 left in the game and the score at 27-20, the Lions were looking like they had enough offensive momentum to come all the way back and win the game. They had just driven down the field for a quick touchdown, and it was starting look like they were going to be able to score at will on the Ravens in the second half.

With the Ravens offense now on the field, the Fox cameras suddenly cut to the Ravens sideline to show linebacker Terrell Suggs in the middle of a huddle of defensive players where he was gesturing and talking animatedly.

“Look at Terrell Suggs on the sideline,” play by play announcer Thom Brennaman told viewers. “He has gathered that entire defensive team around him.”

“A lot of wisdom and a lot experience,” analyst Chris Spielman said. “And guess what, he’s a fourth-down gamer — 11½ sacks in the fourth quarter and overtime. He usually gets things done.”

The question: What was he talking about?

Just over a minute later, with 8:07 left in the game, sideline reporter Peter Schrager had the answer for Baltimore viewers when Brennaman asked what he had been able to hear while eavesdropping on the Suggs-led sideline session.

“It was true leadership exhibited,” Schrager said. “He brought in every member of the defense and he said, ‘You have to put behind you everything that just happened. For winning football, we need to execute. Forget everything that happened the last few drives. Now is what matters. Let’s go out and do this thing.’ ”

With 6:38 left in the game, Suggs put into practice what he had just been preaching with a powerful sack. He turned the tide and reversed the momentum of the game off the field and then on.

As exciting as it was to simply watch the momentum shift on the field, it was doubly and triply exciting to watch it unfold from the defense coming off the field looking tired, to the sideline huddle with Suggs exhorting his teammates, to the inspired play that took place on the field with Suggs leading the way. That sequence defines the way a good telecast can take you inside the game.

And fans only knew about the sideline huddle and what was said in it because of the hustle, team play and excellent coordination between the announcers in the booth, the reporter on the field and the producers and directors.

I remember in seasons past when CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus and his spokespersons would tell me I was off the rails for complaining about Baltimore not getting sideline reporters in some telecasts. Sideline reporters weren’t needed, they said.

Well, maybe they are not crucial to a telecast, but Schrager’s work sure made this telecast a more exciting and pleasurable viewing experience for me. And that includes his injury reports, especially his recognition of how important the injury to cornerback Jimmy Smith was.

And, let me tell you, I was prepared to tee this telecast up early and rip it in the first quarter.

There is nothing that irritates me more in covering football telecasts than crews that don’t come ready to play. And that is exactly what the Fox crew looked like just 48 seconds into the game when a Lions defender charged into the Ravens backfield before the ball was snapped.

Play was stopped with the officials flagging the Ravens for a false start.

A few seconds later, as viewers were seeing random images of the Ravens sideline and then the field, the audio was filled with sounds of fans in the stadium booing. It was clear that they were booing the replay of the previous play and call.

And then, viewers saw the officials reverse the call to penalize the Lions for the defender who crossed into the backfield.

But through all of that, never a replay!

“Why no replay?” I wrote with such force that my pen broke. Really.

Fortunately, things got better. So much better, I say all sins are forgiven.

I need to make special mention of Spielman’s performance.

If someone on the sideline or in the truck had been slacking off at the start of the game, Spielman more than made up for it the rest of the way. The former linebacker worked as hard as any analyst on any network I have seen this year to take viewers inside that game.

He brought clarity to the most complicated blocking schemes, and I loved how passionate he got about the importance of watching the shoulders of blocking backs as they come out of the backfield on red zone plays if you want to know whether they are going to be blockers for another runner or intended receivers.

If they are squared up with the goal line, it’s a run. If their shoulders point outside the shoulders of the defensive end or linebacker on the edge, they are probably going to be the receiver.

That might be more inside than most of us need. But it is typical of the effort Spielman and the rest of the Fox team made to take us inside this exciting Ravens win — once they all woke up.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

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