What does it take for Kenny Albert to act like he cares in calling a game?
You have the Ravens fighting for their playoff lives Sunday and the Philadelphia Eagles mounting an improbable comeback with a rookie quarterback. And the Fox play-by-play announcer sounds like he’s calling a 30-point blowout between two teams that have no chance at the postseason, not the eventual 27-26 Ravens win that set up a Christmas Day showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North crown.
Is it because Fox doesn’t have AFC TV rights, and Albert doesn’t care so much about what was at stake for the Ravens? Fox has NFC rights, and the Eagles probably were not going to the playoffs even if they had pulled out a victory with a successful 2-point conversion after scoring a touchdown with four seconds left.
Who knows? But by the end of the game, I was screaming for someone in management at Fox to get in Albert’s ear and wake him the hell up, because for the Ravens, their season was on the line. In Baltimore in December, that’s pretty much everything.
The maddening thing is that the rest of the telecast was good.
Sideline reporter Laura Okmin was on the weather-conditions story as soon as the wind picked up in the first quarter, and she stuck with it, interviewing Ravens coach John Harbaugh at halftime to get his thoughts on how unpredictable the wind was once it got inside M&T Bank Stadium.
She was also all over the resodding that took place after the Dec. 10 Army-Navy game and how that might affect traction near the end zones. And indeed, you did see receivers go down on a few cuts near the goal line during the game.
Daryl Johnston isn’t the most animated analyst, but compared with Albert, he was a live wire trying to inject some energy into their call of the game.
Johnston understood that the Eagles’ ability to run the ball so effectively against the Ravens, which had the best run defense in the league, was a major story line that needed explaining. Give him credit for that.
And he did try to explain it, with talk about how strong and punishing a runner Ryan Mathews is. He supported that analysis with quotes from Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who played with Mathews in San Diego. After a big gain for a first down in the third quarter, Johnston offered his own analysis: “He just makes his decision, gets north and south and slices through everybody.”
That’s not exactly an in-depth explanation, but it was perfectly in sync with what the replay showed, and it did explain some of the key elements of Mathews’ success.
Johnston’s analysis and replays also highlighted some of the improved blocking by the Eagles offensive line that was opening holes for Mathews, particularly with linemen pulling rather than blocking straight-ahead.
Johnston and the replays were working hand in glove most of the day. Give the telecast's producer and director credit for that.
With 7:49 left in the game, the Eagles went for it on fourth down in Ravens territory, with an end-around for wide receiver Nelson Agholor. I thought he made the first-down marker and got a bad spot a yard and a half short when I watched the play live. But the replay, which popped up instantly, clearly showed that Agholor had stepped out exactly where the referee had spotted the ball.
Johnston added his analysis as the replay rolled, and clearly described the way Agholor let the Ravens pressure keep pushing him toward the sideline and back instead of upfield through a seam that had briefly opened. In not making a quick decision and getting himself in a position to go north-south in a hurry, Agholor did the opposite of what Mathews had been doing all day.
Johnston’s explanation was clear, concise and didn’t use a lot of useless jargon to impress the folks who go to sports bars and call into sports-talk radio. He was talking to the mass audience of general viewers and making the game a more understandable and pleasurable experience for them.
Good work by the producers, sideline reporter and Johnson. Too bad the play-by-play guy sounded like he was hardly working at all.