CBS does a better Ravens telecast -- for one half anyway

The Ravens were finally deemed worthy by CBS Sports of its first-string broadcast team, and what a difference it made in the quality of the telecast -- for one half, anyway.

While the first half was outstanding in terms of production and imagery, the second half was marred by a loss of audio, lack of focus in the booth and missing 22 seconds of a play that viewers never saw in the third quarter.

I'm sorry, but that's not really acceptable from the best football crew a network can offer -- especially when you are making the kind of money the networks make on these drowning-in-ads telecasts.

But let's talk about the good TV stuff first in this depressing 23-20 Ravens loss.

From the very first pictures of Jacoby Jones awaiting the opening kickoff, in terms of imagery, it was almost as if you were watching "NBC Sunday Night Football" instead of the inept coverage CBS has been providing all season long of the Ravens.

Of course, simply showing viewers the opening kickoff was a huge improvement from last week's wretched effort, when the third-string CBS crew missed it altogether -- a first in my 30 years of covering TV sports.

But Sunday there were cameras at ground level in the end zone following Jones as he prowled the turf awaiting the start of the game -- and they were so close they were practically in his pants.

Viewers were given a lot of ground-level shots extending out across the field and up into the stadium lights as night fell on M&T Bank Stadium during the first half. They instantly transported you to M&T, while generating the sense of an epic sports event -- as Ravens-Steelers games often become.

During those shots, I felt as connected to Sunday's game as I do watching NFL Films, and that's high, high praise.

And while CBS has been abysmal in covering injuries and analyzing their importance all season long, the crew Sunday was all over Steelers defensive back Ike Taylor when he went down. They reported the injury and his trip to the locker room, they showed a picture of him being iced down in the locker room, and then, later yet, with 2 minutes and 42 seconds left in the half, they showed him sitting on the bench with his leg in a boot.

I still think CBS Sports president Sean McManus should blow the budget and hire a sideline reporter. But the crew Sunday showed it can at least do an adequate informational job in some cases -- if they make an effort.

Too bad I didn't see that hustle with 5:20 left in the game when Terrell Suggs went out holding his arm. Even though the cameras showed Suggs waving to the bench and clearly in distress, the scene that surely had legions of Ravens fans holding their breath was ignored in the booth for about 15 seconds as Phil Simms talked about why the Steelers were running the ball.

Finally, after 15 seconds of images of Suggs in pain, Jim Nantz said, "Suggs dragging a little, the right arm, comes out at the five-minute mark."

Later viewers were told, "Suggs is out. He was taken to the locker room."

That's more than "dragging a little." But at least the folks in the CBS production truck gave us the images.

But this is why you need a sideline reporter. Fans care when anyone goes down, but when it's a star player who has come back from as devastating an injury as Suggs did, the telecast should be all over it -- even if it looks as if the injury is to another part of his body.

But what was unforgivable to me was CBS again not delivering a full game. With 3:21 left in the third quarter, the audio went out. Instead of holding the visual so viewers didn't miss anything, CBS broke away and went to the 10,000th promo for the Army-Navy game.

When we came back to the game, the clock was at 2:59. It does not appear that we missed a play, but I have no idea what happened to those 22 seconds. And that's wrong.

I watch regional sports channels cover Division III college games, and they manage to give me every second of play. Heck, local access channels doing high school games deliver all the action. Why can't CBS Sports do it for the NFL? Really?

The audio went out again, and when it came back, it sounded as if Simms and Nantz were in a submarine rather than a network broadcast booth. Eventually, they got it right -- eventually.

In fairness, Nantz is a very good play-by-play announcer. His energy, pace and overall focus are top shelf. He doesn't bring the sense of history or gravitas to a game that Al Michaels does, but then, there is only one Michaels.

As for Simms, he does his homework -- give him that. And again unlike Dan Dierdorf and Dan Fouts, he is usually right when he tells viewers what he saw on a contested play -- and what he thinks the ultimate ruling will be. He called the touchdown by Steelers tight end Heath Miller correctly when it looked to me in real time like Miller was out of bounds before touching the pylon with the ball.

But I was disappointed in the way that Simms failed to take me inside the game -- explaining why something was working (or not) for one team or the other the way Cris Collinsworth does at NBC.

Here's my bottom line: Every time I was about to praise the CBS crew for doing something well in the first half, I was let down by a comparable failure in the second.

In the first half, I marveled at the production crew's ability to get replays up instantly after a big play -- replays that often allowed me to see the play from at least two angles.

But then in the second half, Ed Reed made a great interception in the Ravens' end zone -- and followed it up with a nifty run. I wanted to savor the interception and Reed's jitterbugging run, but just as the replay started to play, CBS went to commercials. And while they did show the play later, they only gave us the interception -- never the run.

Was Sunday's coverage an improvement over anything we have seen from CBS this year?

Yes, of course. It almost had to be.

But just once, I would love to have the kind of totally pleasurable experience watching a Ravens game on CBS that I often do with NBC or even the NFL Network -- when I can ignore the corporate punches the league-owned channel pulls when things get political.