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CBS Gets An A For Strong NFL Weekend; B+ For Bills-Patriots
Esiason Starts To Emerge As Niners Overcome Giants

Reviews from past weeks: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Patriots 25, Bills 21

By George Stahl

CBS finished a strong NFL weekend with its coverage of the Patriots' dramatic 25-21 win over the Bills. Like it did on the much-publicized Steelers-Lions game on Thanksgiving, CBS seemed to have made the right moves at the end of the equally controversial contest Sunday.

As I'm sure you know, the ending of the entertaining Bills-Patriots game was tarnished by two highly debatable calls. In both cases, CBS showed enough replays of the two plays, a sidelines catch by Patriot receiver Shawn Jefferson and a pass interference penalty on the game's final play, to satisfy all viewers. And while viewers always seek the perfect angle on controversial plays, I couldn't complain with the views presented by the eye network. (although I think the network could have had a reverse-field view of Jefferson's catch, but now I'm getting picky).

Then, after the game-winning touchdown, CBS flooded viewers with the necessary and well-captured reactions of the Bills coach Wade Phillips, Patriots coach Pete Carroll, Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe as well as other players and fans. CBS did a nice job going from one shot to another.

CBS did report after the touchdown that the Bills were refusing to come out of their locker rooms for the extra-point try. Even though Phillips suggested Monday that the team was never asked by officials to come back out, it is tough to criticize the network for not nailing that during the heat of the moment on Sunday.

The network's mostly successful production of the Bills-Patriots game followed a strong weekend of NFL coverage. On Thursday, CBS was all over "coingate" as its mikes picked up Bettis calling "tails."

Then, earlier Sunday, CBS had one of its best "The NFL Today" shows of the year, as it moved NFL insider Michael Lombardi to the desk and had George Seifort reporting on the 49ers from San Francisco. Lombardi's presence and personality appeared to re-energize analysts Brent Jones and Marcus Allen, as the threesome enjoyed some of the most spirited banter heard so far this year on the show.

During Sunday's show, Lombardi said instant replay, which could have been used on Jefferson's catch, will be approved next year. He said the addition of the Browns and replay activist Carmen Policy will put support for instant replay over the top. However, Lombardi also said it was a mistake for Bledsoe to start Sunday. We see now how that last opinion turned out.

Meanwhile, it is becoming more and more apparent that Seifort, who still seems very uncomfortable in front of the camera, is just passing time until his next coaching gig. Interested in coming to Philadelphia, Georgie boy?

Overall, this weekend showed that CBS is getting closer to re-establishing itself as the leader in NFL coverage.

As for the Bills-Patriots game, here are the my highlights, lowlights and reviews of the announcers.

Verne Lundquist - the unflappable longtime football announcer has one of the more recognizable voices in football. However, maybe after all these years, he gets bored doing a game. Sure, Lundquist still got excited over the big plays, but he seemed sedated through parts of the first half Sunday. He also didn't seem to recognize the referee's signal for illegal contact in the first quarter.

Randy Cross - the nine-year announcer was solid but not great. Cross came into the game well-prepared, knowing what both teams wanted to do offensively and defensively. He also was quick to criticize players, such as when Patriot receiver Terry Glenn clearly short-armed a pass over the middle in the third quarter.

His biggest problem, and the reason why I think he is too high on the CBS totem pole, was that he was not great at detailing the X's and O's. On three big plays Sunday, Cross offered little to no explanation as to why they were successful.

  • After a 33-yard catch by a wide-open Glenn, Cross just talked about what Bledsoe might be saying. ("Well, if you're Drew Bledsoe right now, you've got to kinda say, 'How do you like my broken finger?'" I hate it when announcers try to be funny or cute by suggesting what players are saying with their actions.) Cross added that plays like that is what the Patriots offense needs to do. No kidding. Cross offered no opinion or insight as to how Glenn, the Pats' best receiver, was so wide open on the play.
  • After a 56-yard catch by Bill receiver Kevin Williams near the end of the first half, Cross talked about how the Bills offense believes in Flutie and how the Patriots defense fell asleep out there ("You can almost see the Z's on the screen [during the replay]." Groan.). Again, no insight.
  • After a 84-yard touchdown catch by Bills receiver Eric Moulds, who made a one-handed catch 19 yards downfield and ran the last 65 yards into the end zone, the only insight by Cross was how the safety took the wrong angle on Moulds.

Cross prepares hard for the game and is willing to criticize players or officials. Plus, he has a smooth delivery. However, he is also one of the least insightful announcers and undeserving of the second team slot.

Michele Tafoya - the rookie sideline reporter was solid Sunday. She reported on how Bledsoe warmed up before the game with his injured finger and what little he did to take care of it during the game. She also talked to both coaches at halftime, which I always consider a plus.

Glitches:
1.
The update from New York on the Oilers-Seahawks game in the fourth quarter did not include Jim Nantz's voice.
2. The announcers mikes went out for a few seconds in the first quarter after CBS played "The NFL Today" jingle to signal the scores at the bottom.

Strongest comments: 1. Lundquist said, "I think the perception of Drew Bledsoe has been altered, perhaps forever, because of that performance [the Patriots' comeback on Monday night against the Dolphins]."
2. Cross on the Patriots' offensive problems Sunday, "They can't run the ball when they have to."

Good lines: 1. Lundquist called a field goal by Bills kicker Steve Christie that bounced in off the goal post, "ricochet romance."

Good shots: 1. A field-level shot clearly showed that a Bills defender pulled on the face mask of Patriots receiver Terry Glenn.
2.
An overhead angle showed that the Patriots had 14 defensive players on the field when it called timeout in the fourth quarter.

Missing in action: A better view to see if the Bills got a lucky or a fair spot after Flutie dove for the first down on a critical fourth quarter drive by the Bills. And, as I mentioned, I also would have appreciated a better perspective on Jefferson's controversial fourth-down catch during New England's dramatic final drive.

Things that make you go hmm:
1.
Cross said, "Flutie is like a major league pitcher. He's got four or five delivery points."
2.
At the beginning of the game, CBS showed Doug Flutie's famous "Hail Mary" pass to beat Miami in 1984. However, over the video, the network used the call made on radio instead of the one made for CBS.

Grades: CBS gets an A for the weekend, while the Bills-Patriots broadcast gets a B+ (which would have been lower if not for the solid production at the end of the game).

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49ers 31 Giants 7

By Randy Williams

San Francisco's win over the Giants wasn't great but it was an interesting night at the Monday Night corral. Al Michaels was efficient, Dan Dierdorf was improved and Boomer Esiason showed signs of becoming a star.

First, I'd like to compliment ABC's coverage of the grotesque knee injury suffered by Niners defensive tackle Bryant Young in the fourth period. Having learned from its errors in covering Joe Theismann's broken leg in 1986, ABC only showed the injury once on replay. Michaels & Co. capably handled the situation, with Dierdorf and Esiason visibly shaken by the incident.

Esiason's best broadcasting trait is his ability to stick to what he knows - quarterbacking.
Just one year removed from the game, Boomer is able to give viewers insight that Frank Gifford was unable to provide. To wit:

  • Noted that Giants QB Danny Kanell was benched partly because he took too many sacks.
  • Said Niners Steve Young forced a pass to Jerry Rice, rather than throw to a wide-open Greg Clark. Earlier, the trio talked about how San Francisco may force the ball to Rice after the receiver complained this week of not getting the ball, despite leading NFL receivers in catches.
  • On a third-quarter scramble by Steve Young, pointed out that many teams teach a "scramble drill" where receivers run downfield as the quarterback runs toward the line of scrimmage. As Young's throw was too tall for Rice, Esiason noted that passes by a left-handed quarterback tend to sail high while scrambling left.

Dierdorf wasn't at Esiason's level but he wasn't bad, either. He did a much better job of talking about line play and didn't make many stupid comments. With 11 minutes left in the first half, the Hall of Fame tackle noted the extra wide splits between Niners' o-linemen and showed why such alignments are not conducive to run blocking.

In the third quarter, Dierdorf noted that the Giants defense was tired from 1) Being on the field too much and 2) Playing on soggy grass at San Francisco's 3Com Park, which tires players more than playing on the Meadowlands' artificial turf, where the Giants can best use their speed.

I didn't think it was possible, but sideline reporter Lesley Visser reached a new low with her third-quarter "interview" of Robin Williams. The brief chat was so brutal, with Visser asking the comedian about his hat, that Dick Stockton may change the locks before Visser returns home.

Visser delivered a couple of informative nuggets - reporting Eddie DeBartolo hopes to have the Niners' ownership issue resolved by Jan. 1 and delivering a quick, informative statement after Bryant Young's injury.

Still, she is not getting all she could from her sideline post and continues to add about as much to the telecast as Dierdorf's mustache does.

Best picture: Pre-kickoff shot of San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci blessing himself with the Sign of the Cross.

What?: "He looked like Larry Doby on that one." - Dierdorf, after a poor punt in the first quarter by Reggie Roby of the Niners.

Top stat: Entering the game, San Francisco was 9-for-9 on third down and one situations this season.

Top lines: 1) "You realize that Graham is the all-time leader in yards per pass. Unfortunately for the Giants, it's (former Browns great) Otto Graham." - Michaels, when speaking about Giants QB Kent Graham. 2) "Another completion and they'll be out of field goal range." - Dierdorf, after the Giants lost yardage on a pass for the second consecutive play.

Grade: B (Boomer - excellent; Al - solid; Dan - improved; Visser - brutal.)

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