After another season of mostly praising Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and the NBC broadcast crew as the best in the business, I can't tell you how disappointed I was by their performance Saturday in telecasting the Ravens' 35-31 loss to the New England Patriots in their AFC divisional-round playoff game.
Their first quarter was awful, and then some. It seemed as if Collinsworth and Michaels were in a coma as the Ravens drove downfield for their quick opening touchdown. Their call of the drive was somewhere between lackadaisical and somnambulant. They seemed to be watching instead of broadcasting.
And on the second touchdown, Collinsworth literally could not bring himself to acknowledge that Steve Smith beat Darrelle Revis one-on-one in the end zone despite that being exactly what happened.
The Holy Trinity for Collinsworth on Saturday was Tom Brady, Revis and Rob Gronkowski, whom he kept calling "Gronk" throughout the game, just as he called Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger "Big Ben" last week. I'm pretty sure he didn't call any Ravens by such pet names this week or last.
In fact, it wasn't until the halftime show that anyone at NBC acknowledged that Smith beat Revis. Thank you, Rodney Harrison.
But the moment that irrevocably changed my opinion of Michaels, Collinsworth and the NBC crew came with 48 seconds left in the first quarter, when the NBC cameras showed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the stands during a timeout.
Al Michaels read a statement about the Mueller Report, the investigation of the Ray Rice scandal bought and paid for by the league, which was released Thursday.
"After interviewing every female employee, after analyzing millions of documents, emails and text messages and searching the computer and the cell phone of the commissioner, the report concluded there is no evidence that Goodell or anyone else in the league received or saw the tape [of Rice punching his then fiancee in the face] prior to it going public," Michaels said.
But it got worse when he stopped reading the prepared propaganda and started trying to sound conversational.
"Cris, not a lot of good came out of this, obviously, the whole situation," the veteran play-by-play announcer said. "But it made it part of the national conversation."
I presume he was talking about domestic violence's becoming part of the national conversation, but what "made it part of the national conversation"? The actions of Goodell and the league?
"Are you kidding me?" I thought. He's trying to spin this into some kind of positive for the NFL? With that logic, you could say Rice's punch made "it part of the national conversation," too. Was that a good thing?
But it got even worse when Collinsworth joined in this bit of Kabuki theater while the NBC cameras held on Goodell and his wife in the stands and the game stayed in one of the longest timeouts I can remember seeing without someone's being seriously injured.
"The decision initially to suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake, and the commissioner admitted that," Collinsworth said. "But I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity. And I think that came out in the report as well."
"It did," Michaels added in one last little bit of pimping for Goodell and the league.
I know pimping is a strong word, but that's what it was.
The words Michaels read sounded as if they should have been written by Baghdad Bob, aka Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the minister of information for Saddam Hussein, who made laughable propaganda statements about the invincibility of the Iraqi army even as it was being overrun by U.S. troops in 2003.
It had the look of something you might have expected from state-run TV in an Eastern European country in the 1950s: Goodell as Marshall Tito, and Michaels and Collinsworth as his fawning puppet announcers.
I'm serious: Seeing the game stopped so that these two could serve as PR operatives to whitewash Goodell's handling of the matter and burnish his image made me as angry as anything I have seen on TV this year.
What about the viewers, the fans, the "love of the game" that you guys like to talk about so much?
This was about corporate PR and kissing up to the guy who decides broadcasts rights, and don't ever forget how the guys in the booth bowed and kissed the ring on national TV on Saturday.
I never will have the respect for Michaels, Collinsworth and NBC's NFL coverage that I once had.
I'm not happy the Ravens lost, but I have to be honest: After seeing how they cozied up to Goodell and the NFL, at the expense of the viewers, I am glad I won't have to spend anymore time this year with Michaels, Collinsworth and the crew from NBC Sports.