Ravens telecast matches 4th-string broadcast team, 2nd-string players

Ravens fullback Vonta Leach is brought down awkwardly by Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.
Ravens fullback Vonta Leach is brought down awkwardly by Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

It is hard to get too worked up about the deficiencies of a telecast when the game being covered feels like a preseason contest.

That was the case Sunday as the Ravens' junior varsity lost to the second-string Cincinnati Bengals 23-17 — with the fourth-string CBS crew calling the game.

For the record, it was Kevin Harlan on play-by-play and Solomon Wilcots on analysis. It did not take long for Wilcots to get things wrong.

Forty-five seconds into the game as Joe Flacco's image was shown in a window box in an upper quadrant of the screen, Wilcots told viewers, "One of the things [Flacco] wants to do against the ravenous pass rush of the Cincinnati Bengals is go up-tempo, try to slow them down, keep them on the field. He feels if he can test their conditioning, that will slow up this pass rush and allow him to make some completions down the field."

Only as he was saying that, the other three-quarters of the screen showed Flacco in the middle of the Ravens huddle taking his time. The Ravens were not using the no-huddle offense that they employ to go up-tempo.

If Wilcots had looked at the screen or the field, he would have seen evidence challenging the words as they came out of his mouth. And, in fact, the Ravens never went up-tempo with the no-huddle offense during the time Flacco was in the game. They huddled after each play in the first series.

So much for Wilcots really knowing what Flacco wanted to do. From the look of what happened after the first few series, what Flacco and coach John Harbaugh mainly wanted Sunday was to get the first-string quarterback off the field in one piece.

The former players at CBS are among the worst with that kind of gasbag talk. They are constantly telling viewers what players are thinking as if they have special inside knowledge when all they have is hot air and broadcast-booth bluster. (I promised I was going to write a review today without mentioning the name of a certain CBS sportscaster who is the King of Hot Air, the High Priest of Gas Bagology. So if you're playing a drinking game as you read this review based on mention of this former NFL player's name, sorry, you are going to bed sober tonight.)

By the way, first-string fullback Vonta Leach was injured on the second play of the game with 14:21 left in the first quarter. And by the end of the game, CBS still had no information for viewers on the extent or even type of injury he suffered.

With 5:42 left in the third quarter, Harlan said, "Again, no definitive word on the Leach injury," as if they were waiting for someone to bring that information to them, instead of having a reporter on the sideline trying to obtain it. That's the "reporter" part of sideline reporter, but CBS doesn't employ them.

And let's be precise: it wasn't that CBS didn't have the "definitive" word -- it didn't have any word beyond what viewers and everyone in the stadium saw when Leach limped off the field. Don't you think someone from CBS could have at least asked one of the Ravens medical personnel, and if nothing else, reported what that person said, even if it was a "no comment" or "we don't know"?

As for Harlan's play-by-play call, consider this sequence with 3:57 left in the first quarter when Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton tried to pass out of the shotgun on a third-down play, and Ravens defensive lineman Bryan Hall broke through to apply heavy pressure.

"Oh, [Dalton's] down and swallowed up on the play, and it's a loss of 3," Harlan said, as the camera focused on Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger and several Bengals lying in a pile several yards away from Dalton.

"We got Kruger on the bottom. It's a sack. It's a loss of 3. They go back…"

And now the camera is showing Kruger getting up with the football and signaling first down Ravens.

"In fact, they say it's a fumble," Harlan says, continuing his stream-of-confusion call. "It's a fumble, and Kruger jumped on it. The ball must have been knocked free in all that congestion out of the hand of Andy Dalton."

Actually, it was not ruled a fumble. In fairness, however, the referees cited the "tuck rule" in making that call, and no one seems to know exactly what that means in terms of a quarterback's arm coming forward or not coming forward and him trying to re-tuck the ball. Wilcots, for example, had cited the tuck rule in saying he thought it would be ruled a fumble as the play was being reviewed.

But the problem with Harlan's call was in him announcing it as a sack when the camera had left Dalton and followed the ball forward to the point where Kruger fell on it. And when someone told him to look at Kruger, he only got more confused -- and shared it with viewers.

But, hey, in a game like this, why get nutty about a mixed-up call?

Why make a big deal about Ravens quarterback Tyrod Taylor giving up the game-losing interception on a tip to a Bengals defensive lineman only seconds after Wilcots said how bad Taylor was making Cincinnati's defensive linemen look?

Really, why? Let it go, and let's get psyched for the playoffs next week -- when we might get some first-team announcers and crews.

I do want to say something nice about the CBS pre-game show Sunday: It included a powerful interview by Greg Gumbel with Indianapolis Colts coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who returned to the sidelines Sunday after undergoing chemotherapy.

ESPN's pre-game show also had a powerful interview by Rachel Nichols with Pagano focusing on the light in his office that was never turned off until he returned to the team. What a great and resonant symbol of faith and support among members of that franchise and the Indianapolis football community. And what wisdom in the words and thoughts Pagano shared with his interviewers and fans.

I have criticized both pre-game shows in the past, but they came up big Sunday in their skilled and sensitive packaging of this interview.