Maybe I have just been seeing too many Ravens games that were telecast by third- and fourth- string CBS and Fox lineups this fall. But watching the lead crew from CBS with Tony Romo and Jim Nantz was pure pleasure Thursday night. And it wasn't because the Ravens pounded the Miami Dolphins, 40-0.
This was my first chance to critically zero in on Romo, and it is easy to see why he's been getting such good press.
He brings force and energy to the telecast without being a hot dog like ESPN's Jon Gruden. Romo exudes a strong, quiet confidence in his analysis that makes it instantly credible. And I have to say, I did not find one significant moment in what was a very long telecast where he was wrong.
With 10:24 left in the first quarter, Nantz teed up "Tony's Takes" and Romo's main key to success for the Ravens at that point was: "Let Joe go." He was urging Flacco and the Ravens to "take shots down the field."
"On first down, line up like you're going to run the ball, take play-actions," Romo said. "The way you're going to score more touchdowns, which they haven't been doing, take shots down the field. It will protect him better. The defensive line won't be able to get after him. And the defensive backfield is the weak spot in the Dolphins defense."
Two minutes later with 8:24 left in the first quarter, Flacco took one of the shots, and it resulted in a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin.
"That's Flacco with a perfect ball," he said over the replay. "And Flacco says, 'Slump? I'm Joe Flacco. I'm not in no slump. Let's go.' "
I love his enthusiasm.
The replays were superb all night. We had overhead replays of Maclin's catch and then a look at it from the back of the end zone with Maclin coming toward the camera as he reached for the ball — a 180-degree flip from all the other replays. I have not seen such synchronicity between images and words anywhere else on NFL or college coverage this season.
Director Mike Arnold and producer Jim Rikhoff delivered a precise and focused telecast. And they did it with two teams that came into the game playing uninspired football. Better yet, they did it during what felt like one of the longest games I can remember seeing.
Everyone on this CBS crew seemed to be on his game and in sync. After the kickoff to start the second half , sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson told viewers she had spoken to Ravens coach John Harbaugh at halftime about the injury Flacco suffered after taking a hard hit to his head from linebacker Kiko Alonso while sliding at the end of a run.
Wolfson reported that Flacco "officially" had a concussion, according to Harbaugh, and that he had a nasty cut to his ear that they were "just now stitching up."
As she started to talk about Flacco's ear being split by Alonso's hit, viewers saw videotape images of the bloody ear as the quarterback left the field.
Nantz and Romo were clear about their feelings on the play without going overboard.
Nantz called it a "vicious" hit, while Romo said of Alonso: "I think he absolutely did too much at the end. … I think he was too aggressive at the end."
The Dolphins were penalized for Alonso's hit, but it was not deemed "flagrant" by the officials. The CBS cameras showed all the pushing, shoving and punches that flew between the two teams during the rest of the game.
The telecast was a great team effort by CBS, but Romo's performance is the one that stands out. He had a great feel for the rhythm of the game.
With 14:29 left in the fourth quarter, the Dolphins looked as though they had a chance to suddenly get back in the game.
"Right here, you want to take a shot down the field," he said excitedly as the Dolphins broke huddle and came up to the line. And that's just what they did.
It turned out to be an incomplete pass, but that's pretty much the way it went all night for Miami. That wasn't Romo's fault.
And he consistently explained success and failure in ways almost anyone could understand.
With 13:50 left in the third quarter, he explained that the Ravens were having so much success with their running game in part because they were using unbalanced formations.
"Right now, Miami is still not adjusting to these unbalanced looks," he said.
Later, with 4:37 left in the third quarter, as Ravens quarterback Ryan Mallett called an audible, Romo told viewers: "Miami just adjusted to the Ravens, and that's why the Ravens changed the play. The Dolphins finally adjusted."
And the crew offered graphic enhanced replays to show the unbalanced looks and the alleys Ravens running backs had been finding as a result of the blocking scenes made possible by the formations.
Romo has a great ability to synthesize a lot of information and communicate it in an easy-to-understand way.
When Nantz asked what Romo thought the Ravens strategy would be in the second half without Flacco, the analyst said without a moment's hesitation: "I can tell you pretty much what they're going to do: Pound the rock, play defense, kick field goals, win games."
That's pretty much just the way it went.
Become a subscriber today to support sports analysis like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.