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System fails as CBS misses TD

The phone rang Sunday night, after CBS missed Tom Brady's touchdown plunge because it was late coming back from a commercial. An important play? It virtually clinched the Patriots' 20-3 victory over the Colts.

"Can you believe that they missed it?" screamed the caller, my daughter, over the line from Connecticut. "But at least the Patriots scored."

These things aren't supposed to happen, but they do -- all the time -- and it represents a slippage of broadcast standards in the pursuit of squeezing in one more ad or promo.

How often do we rejoin a baseball game with the first pitch of an inning on its way to the plate (bad) or already in the catcher's glove (worse) or out of the park for a home run we missed (worst case)?

Sunday's gaffe wasn't limited to TV. The national feed on Westwood One radio also missed the play. If it had been a routine play at midfield, few would have noticed, but it wasn't. Corey Dillon had just run to the 1-yard line, and the Patriots called time. CBS went to a break. The "system" has both a TV coordinator, "the orange sleeves," and an NFL coordinator, "the green hat," on the sidelines. Their job is to coordinate between the referee on the field and the producer in the broadcast truck to make sure action resumes on the field and on our TV screens at the same time.

"We just missed it," said a CBS spokesman yesterday. "It was a case of coming back a couple of seconds late and the Patriots going on a quick snap on that particular play."

Play-by-play man Jim Nantz covered as best he could, saying, "We're back and straight ahead from the 1-yard line Tom Brady dives ahead." Nantz's "touchdown" call coincided with the official's signal, but a missed TD is a missed TD.

He's heard it before
CBS analyst Phil Simms was driving home to New Jersey Sunday night, reviewing things he'd seen and said during the Patriots-Colts game.

One of his pregame observations was: "I think Tom Brady has been doing a slow burn. He wants to come out and show everyone what he can do."

"I recognized his look before the game," said Simms. "When I played in the Super Bowl against John Elway [in 1987], 70 percent of the questions to me that week were about Elway. Tom Brady had to eat some of that with questions about Peyton Manning before this game." Simms didn't say it, but he was the MVP of that Super Bowl, as the Giants beat the Broncos, 39-20.

Simms watched Brady come out on the field for warmups.

"That's what really convinced me he was ready," said Simms. "He jogged the length of the field as usual. Mr. Cool. Then, in the far end zone, he stopped and went wild interacting with the fans, jumping, gyrating, and gesturing. We went `Wow.' It was a pretty neat moment. Then he jogged back up the field, Mr. Cool again. That kind of tells you he was ready. Coaches and athletes find ways to motivate themselves. I think the media and the Colts talk helped motivate the Patriots."

Simms and Nantz should be ready for Sunday's AFC Championship game at Pittsburgh. It will be the ninth time they've seen the Patriots this season.

"I think we've got the Patriots' numbers down," Simms said. "But we've done the Steelers four times, too, including their game with the Patriots."

Count Simms among those who were surprised by the Patriots' dominance.

"The Colts never even had a chance at a big play," he said. "I think a lot of viewers might have been disappointed because they expected they'd be seeing the game of a lifetime, not necessary a shootout, but something like a 24-23 game with a late TD to win it. I honestly thought that's what we might get."

Degrees of separation
Sunday's TV numbers for the Patriots -- a 42.3 rating and 66 share -- were just a tenth of a rating point below last year's divisional playoff game. That was the Saturday night game against the Titans that did a 42.4 rating/60 share with the temperature 4 degrees at kickoff . . . Three of CBS "NFL Today" studio panelists -- Greg Gumbel, Dan Marino, Boomer Esiason -- picked the Patriots, with Shannon Sharpe going for the Colts. After the game, Esiason said Manning might be "this generation's Dan Marino -- a great football player, but he's not going to get to a Super Bowl." At which point Marino interjected, "Hey, I got to a Super Bowl." And Esiason finished, "Not with that defense. You know what I mean. There's too much pressure on him to be perfect every week, just like you [Marino] had to be." It was a discussion that seemed guaranteed to be continued once the studio lights went off . . . Channel 4 meteorologist Melissa Bell gave a snowy forecast during the station's "Patriots Game Day" at 11:30 a.m. It would have been a nice touch if the CBS bosses had incorporated her prognostication into the pregame show . . . Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney executed a spin move to sack Brady that was exactly as Patriots coach Bill Belichick diagrammed it on the live version of Channel 5's "Patriots All Access" Friday night . . . Sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein quoted Patriot Rodney Harrison as saying he was "more confident with our game plan against the Colts than I was last year." Why? "Because we found some keys to their offense."

Go figure
ABC got a better afternoon show from the US Figure Skating Championships (dance and men's finals) than it did for the prime-time pairs and women's finals. Late Globe columnist George Frazier, who wrote often of "duende," would have found it in abundance in the performance of dance champs Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin. The evening show did a 5.4 rating going against Falcons-Rams (13.4 rating) while the afternoon skating did a 2.6 against Jets-Steelers (25.8) . . . Tomorrow's Boston College-Villanova men's basketball game is a Ted Sarandis-only radio broadcast on WEEI (850 AM, 7:30 p.m.). Channel 56 is picking up Saturday night's game vs. St. John's, also at 7:30 . . . The Globe's Jackie MacMullan and Dan Shaughnessy will be on "Sports Plus" tomorrow (NESN, 6:30 and 10:30 p.m.). One sure subject will be MacMullan's piece on Tedy Bruschi that started on Page 1 of the Sunday Globe . . . Bruins studio host Alan Segal and play-by-play man Dave Goucher join CN8's Ed Berliner on "Sports Pulse" tomorrow at 10 p.m. to talk about life without hockey.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com 

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