NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is the gold standard of NFL television, no doubt about it. But last night’s telecast of the Ravens' 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was not one of the network’s greatest performances.
It started early with Bob Costas telling viewers in the pregame show that the temperature in the stadium was 35 degrees, but since there wasn’t much wind, it wasn’t that cold.
But at kickoff a short time later, the graphic on the screen said it was 40 degrees. I’m pretty sure the temperature didn’t rise 5 degrees just before kickoff – especially since the graphic at the start of the fourth quarter about three hours later said 36 degrees.
That’s not a big mistake, but such misinformation is not something you expect from NBC’s superb “Sunday Night Football” crew.
Nor do you expect the kind of uneven performance analyst Cris Collinsworth delivered.
With 7:14 left in the first quarter, Collinsworth was telling viewers there are three “anchor points” to the Ravens defense, players who are always on the field and hold the defense together. As he identified Terrell Suggs as one of those who is always on the field, the camera showed Suggs standing on the sideline.
Collinsworth is smooth and graceful enough in his presentation that he quickly joked about the disconnect between his words and what viewers were seeing.
“Terrell Suggs is, of course, on the sidelines as soon as I say that,” he said.
Again, not a big mistake, maybe more a matter of bad luck than anything else. But one of the things I find so impressive about “Sunday Night Football” is the remarkable synchronicity between Collinsworth’s words of analysis and visualization of what he’s saying usually through lightning-quick replays.
There was some of that to be sure.
With 1:02 left in the first quarter, the Steelers finally started to get a little traction for their running game. Just as you wondered what adjustment was responsible, Collinsworth explained that they had replaced Le'Veon Bell with LeGarrette Blount, a quick-hit-straight-ahead runner, and the Steelers linemen were double teaming Haloti Ngata to create some space. During Collinsworth’s explanation, the replay showed the double team burying Ngata and Blount popping through the hole into the Ravens secondary.
That’s the “Sunday Night Football” I have come to know and love. But there was less of it than usual last night.
And there was more bad luck for Collinsworth with 9:14 left in the second quarter when just as he finished saying how impressive Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have been in stepping up to give the Ravens a top-notch running game, Taliaferro fumbled away the ball.
I was also surprised to see Michele Tafoya, who I consider far and away the class of sideline reporters, to be so far behind the Twitter reports that safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Ryan Shazier would not be returning to the field as a result of injuries suffered during the game.
And, again, Collinsworth was not very impressive in his analysis as to how Polamalu’s absence would or would not, as it turned out, affect the Steelers' defense.
On the plus side, with 9:03 left in the first quarter, viewers got great camera shots from the NBC crew as it delivered close-ups of Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger working his jaw into various Popeye The Sailorman poses after he took a particularly vicious hit to the face.
After throwing six TD passes last week, Roethlisberger was not surprisingly one of the players NBC chose to focus on in pregame interviews and in-game storylines and imagery.
Good choice. He threw for six touchdowns again and shredded the Ravens secondary.
But on the Ravens' side of the ball, NBC chose to focus on Suggs with a pregame taped interview from former nemesis Hines Ward and camerawork that started out following every move by the veteran linebacker on the field. Bad choice. Suggs was more hot dog than playmaker last night.
Collinsworth’s comments on a controversial play by Suggs with 7:57 left in the third quarter were indicative of the lack of consistency and precision in his analysis last night.
As several Ravens players stopped a run up the middle by Blount by standing him up and holding him in place as he tried to move forward, Suggs came in from behind the Steelers running back and hit him shoulder first below the legs bringing Blount and the pile of Ravens players to the ground.
It sounded as if both Collinsworth and Michaels said “whoa” when they saw it in real time.
Setting up the replay, Collinsworth said: “Suggs is going to come in and sort of take out the back of the legs of LeGarrette Blount. … That is an ugly shot.”
But while it was still a controversial hit, the replay showed that Suggs hit Blount in the hip rather than the knees.
“It was in the hip area,” Collinsworth said after the replay. “But for the faithful here in Pittsburgh, they don’t care. They just saw what was in their opinion a cheap shot.”
Does that mean he no longer thought it was an ugly hit – that he no longer thought it a cheap shot?
Collinsworth should have waited for the replay before condemning the hit without qualification. And then when the replay showed Suggs hitting the hip and not the knees, Collinsworth should have clearly explained whether he still thought it an ugly hit.
Still for all of that, I’ll take NBC “Sunday Night Football” any day or night of the week over any other NFL TV coverage -- even when 20 points separate two teams at the end of the game.