David Zurawik

CBS wasn't as bad as the Ravens, but it wasn't much better Sunday

With the Ravens playing such a sloppy, stupid game Sunday, it's not fair to totally blame CBS for a lackluster telecast.

So, I won't. Except for one thing: I wish play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms would have had the independence and integrity to call out the officiating team loudly and clearly for one of the worst performances I have ever seen.


Yes, Simms and Nantz did disagree with some calls and did predict others would be overturned as they watched the replays. But when officiating sinks to the depths that it did Sunday in the Ravens' 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots, it needs to be denounced in no uncertain terms.

Viewers were seeing officiating so bad that it was affecting play on the field.


For example, officials called illegal motion on the Ravens' offensive line, when the real penalty was defensive encroachment. And while the officials reversed themselves once they saw evidence of their error, it was, of course, too late for the Ravens to get the free shot down the field they would have had if the correct call had been made.

Viewers could see it, so why couldn't the announcers say what they and viewers were seeing? There's no conspiracy here. The networks, particularly the announcers at CBS, it seems, are simply afraid to denounce anything connected with the league that chooses who gets what rights to these billion-dollar television contracts.

I get that, I really do. But I hated not hearing someone say it in the booth Sunday.

The irony here is that the CBS production team gave us superb replays from beginning to end. And they were onscreen instantly after the live plays ended.

At some point, like with 10:10 left in the game when Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta made a sideline catch that was ruled out of bounds only to be overturned on challenge, you would think Simms or Nantz would say something like, "You know what, these refs really are calling an awful game, aren't they?"

And while I promised not to blame CBS for everything, let me blame it for one more thing: a near-total failure to give viewers any sense of being at M&T Bank Stadium. There were a couple of field-level shots up through the lights into the twilight sky at the start of the game, but that was about it.

There were almost no crowd shots — except for an obligatory quick look at a fan in a Santa Claus suit and a few images of fans-on-their-feet-screaming just before the snap on third down. But from the camera operators to the director, it felt as if there was no imagination or intensity. It was a crew going through the motions.

I had no sense of being in that stadium Sunday. And as bad as the Ravens played, they were still in the game in the first part of the fourth quarter, and the broadcast team owed viewers a better effort.


And, oh yeah, a third thing I want to blame CBS for: a lack of effort in keeping up with injuries — and who was and wasn't on the field because of them.

I'll spare you my weekly why-can't-CBS-provide-a-sideline-reporter rant, but it was outrageous not to know if linebacker Elvis Dumervil was or wasn't in on third downs early in the game.

And, of course, Ravens fans had no confirmation one way or the other when Nantz told us wide receiver Torrey Smith went out limping and holding his hamstring near the end of the game. The cameras gave us pictures of Smith sitting on the bench, but we had no information as to his status.

At that point, it was no longer merely irritating, it was maddening.

And since I am actually getting mad as I realize in writing this review how poorly CBS performed, let me add one last complaint to the litany.

Just before the start of the second half, Nantz introduced one of the network's standing commercial features, "Sonos Sounds of the Game," saying, "So, let's take a look now, listen in to some of the sounds here in Baltimore." (Sonos makes wireless speakers, among other products.)


What followed was the replay of a first-half touchdown by Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

Only the touchdown replayed without any on-field or sideline sounds — just some standard crowd noise in the background.

Nevertheless, Nantz told viewers, "Touchdown to Vereen, football like you never heard it, presented to you by Sonos."

Huh? All I heard is the kind of general crowd noise I heard all day on every game on every channel.

I won't say the network's coverage was as bad as the Ravens on Sunday. But it was that kind of day in front of the television with CBS, which sells products and promotes its own shows much better than it covers live NFL action.

And I do blame it for that.