CBS Sports had me from the opening shot of its telecast of the Ravens’ win over the Green Bay Packers Sunday.
A shot from just above the level of the stadium lights perfectly captured the vast, cold, empty look of the late-November sky in the upper Midwest where I grew up. There was sunlight at the start of the game, but it was already a pale winter sun that only made me shiver as the screen showed a wind chill of 16 degrees. Seeing it set the perfect mood for watching the NFL on TV during Thanksgiving week.
As a lifetime Packers fan, I loved all the shots around Green Bay coming out of commercials. CBS did a nice job of respecting and communicating a sense of the sacred ground of Lambeau Field and the dedication of the fans, even though most of them sat there looking sad during the second half as the Ravens dominated for a 23-0 win. I don’t think they’ll be dancing the polka in Green Bay tonight.
But this telecast was more than just history, mood and atmosphere. The on-air team of Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon and sideline reporter Jenny Dell did solid work all afternoon. Gannon, whom I have been critical of in the past, was especially strong.
Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t take me inside any chess matches going on between opposing coaches or the trench warfare between two linemen the way Tony Romo has been doing all season, but he went deeper than I can remember him ever going. And he made stronger, cleaner calls. I felt as if he was working up there in the booth — and working for me as a viewer. I appreciated that.
His best analysis was of Green Bay quarterback Brett Hundley, whose poor play was probably more responsible for the final score than any other player on the field. Early on Gannon started talking about Hundley’s inability to anticipate receivers before their breaks and to instantly throw the ball when an opening between them and the defender appeared.
With 12:42 left in the third quarter, he sounded exasperated as he explained the main problem with the Packers offense being Hundley’s “indecision and hesitation.”
With 11:45 left he went deeper on that theme, explaining the difference between right and wrong when you’re playing quarterback in the NFL: “With Aaron Rodgers, the ball’s out before the receiver even comes out of the break.”
With 2:32 left in the third, the producers gave us a replay of a Packers receiver standing 7 yards downfield wide open and Hundley hesitating and then double-clutching instead of firing the ball to him.
Pointing out the hesitation, Gannon told viewers, “The saying is, ‘If you wait, you’re late.’ ”
Deep, deeper, and here’s an image and a catchy little saying in case you still don’t get it.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a good day, but it did not start out that way, and I was delighted to see Gannon calling him out for what has mainly been lackluster play all season.
“He just hasn’t seemed comfortable in the offense all year,” Gannon said in his pregame analysis.
“I’m not going to sugar-coat it. He has not played well,” Gannon said of Flacco with 11:45 left in the first quarter.
Gannon critiqued an interception thrown by Flacco with 7:17 left in the second quarter as “really bad decision-making” that “you wouldn’t expect from a 10-year quarterback like Flacco.”
A former quarterback himself, Gannon offered further analysis on the difference between Flacco when he sets his feet before he throws and when he doesn’t.
Gannon was earning his dollar in that booth Sunday.
Harlan was solid as well, and he never let up even when the game was out of reach and most Green Bay fans were heading for the exit.
“So, what do you tell your young quarterback?” he asked Gannon with 1:32 left in the game.
It is a good question: What do you do if you are stuck with Hundley because your star is injured and you have to try to bounce back next week to stay in playoff contention? Kudos to Harlan for not just blah-blah-blahing us to the end of the telecast.
He was earning his dollar all day in that booth in chilly Green Bay, too.