ESPN, Gruden and Ravens loss - not a great TV experience for me

I forgot how annoying Jon Gruden can be, because like a lot of fans, I have not been watching ESPN's "Monday Night Football" that much this year.

But I was quickly reminded of it during the Ravens' 30-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday.


First let me say, Gruden knows the game as well as any analyst on TV. And he has moments when he explains what happened on a play as clearly and succinctly as anyone can. He absolutely knows his stuff and clearly explains it to the viewers – most of the time.

In the first quarter he showed how the Patriots' defensive line shifted just before the ball was snapped on the safety that put the Ravens down 2-0. He pointed out the shift as the difference-maker just as the live action ended, and the replay underscored the wisdom of his analysis.


But the annoyance comes when he acts like he knows what he's talking about whether he does or not – when he runs his mouth ahead of his brain and then tries to walk back what he said without actually admitting he was wrong. He must have been a real treat to play for.

He immediately blasted Matt Elam on the messed-up coverage that gave the Patriots their 79-yard winning touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Chris Hogan late in the game.

"You have to wonder what Number 33 Matt Elam is doing," he said with 6:18 left in the game. "He blew the coverage, and you do not do that with Tom Brady."

But following the Patriots kickoff, he then tried to walk back the bit of analysis that said it was all Elam's fault, by now saying maybe it was the fault of the other safety, Eric Weddle.

"I'm not sure if Eric Weddle's supposed to get back to the post," Gruden said as the replay rolled at 6:15. "Or if it's Elam that blew the coverage. But that's ridiculous."

But, coach, you just said with such conviction that it was definitively Elam. What changed in the last three seconds? Did you actually see what happened on replay?

If you are going to call someone out the way Gruden did, you should be sure it's justified before you do it. But that's Gruden at his annoying worst.

ESPN did a solid broadcast Monday night, but there was nothing special about it.


I like the fact that play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough keeps his focus on the field and does not try to be an entertainer. There is no hot dog in McDonough, and that's a good thing.

But his narration can become so flat that Gruden winds up taking on some of the task of generating story lines and drama during the telecast.

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With 7:24 left in the game, and the Ravens facing a key third-and-4, Gruden said, "Dennis Pitta checking back into the game. Had two touchdowns last week against the Miami Dolphins. Will Flacco look for his leading receiver?"

That's the kind of set-up at a key moment that a play-by-play announcer often gives – Ian Eagle, for example, at CBS.

Here the analyst fills the void – and he does not do it as well as a skilled and animated play-by-play announcer might.

Speaking of the second string Sunday NFL broadcast team at CBS, I have to say that group did better on replays and camera angles than ESPN's crew did Monday – and I am guessing the CBS folks had fewer cameras.


ESPN has a lot of bells and whistles in its pre-game and halftime shows. But it mostly seemed like the same old, same old stuff that I started tuning out this year on more and more Mondays.

I know there are a lot of big sociological, technological and lifestyle factors responsible for the loss of viewership for the NFL on TV this year.

But maybe in the case of Monday Night Football, one of the factors is as simple as ESPN not offering a very compelling telecast.