So I was at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots-Chiefs divisional-round playoff game and thus didn’t catch CBS’s broadcast of the matchup live this past Saturday. Spoiler alert: The Patriots won, 27-20. They will face the winner of the Broncos-Steelers game played on Sunday. Gonna make you look up the outcome of that one.
As the resident sports media columnist, I do DVR and re-watch (time permitting) every Patriots game. When I’m in-house at Gillette rather than on-couch at my house, I still try to monitor the televisions in the press box to at least get some sense for what the broadcast looks like in real time, even if it isn’t the full experience.
I felt your pain this week when it became apparent the production team of CBS’s No. 2 broadcast pairing, Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts, was going to continue to use the “low camera 2’’ angle, which brings a viewer closer to the game and gives a revealing perspective on the players’ speed at the expense of missing the action down field. Many of you complained that you don’t like it. I can see why, though I do like it in small doses.
The volume on the game broadcast was turned down in the press box, but I still got the sense that you’d have preferred another color analyst to Fouts, the Hall of Fame former Chargers quarterback — much preferred, actually. Like, maybe-Phil Simms-isn’t-so-bad preferred. Or Gilbert Gottfried-actually-has-a-soothing-voice preferred. How did I discover and deduce this? Well-honed reportorial instincts, perhaps?
I’ll admit, the volume of venom directed at Fouts surprised me, even with the weary awareness that Twitter has become above all else a platform for complaining. I like Fouts as a broadcaster for a lot of reasons. He’s generally an informed, affable analyst, a pleasant companion for the game, which is all that you can ask for and more than you usually get as an NFL viewer. He survived working with Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football all those years ago. He’s not Phil Simms, another point in his favor. And — full-disclosure — as someone who was mesmerized in the early ‘80s by the Air Coryell offense and the sunshine of those 4 p.m. ET games from California locales, he was one of my heroes as a kid.
(You’re probably going to want to click the evidence. Come back when you stop laughing at my fifth-grade self. I’ll wait.)
So when I plunked down to watch the DVR’d version of the game, my primary intent was not so much to pick up on details I’d missed while covering the game, but to figure out why so many Patriots fans seemed so united in annoyance with Fouts.
And the post-re-watch verdict?
There were things to nitpick. But the complaints — some of which were about some sort of perceived anti-Patriots bias — were way over the top. Fouts was fine, and better than what we usually get when any network other than NBC is in town.
There were a few causes for annoyance, sure. That’s going to happen when someone is talking about your favorite football team for three and a half hours. The first came with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich barreled in unblocked and cleanly crushed Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith a fraction of a second after he released the ball.
While the replay confirmed that Smith had clearly released the pass before Ninkovich — going full speed and untouched, remember — smoked him, Fouts says, “Smith wanted to know why this wasn’t roughing the passer as Ninkovich takes Smith to the ground. That definitely should have been called roughing the passer.’’
There was more gray area there than to declare it definite. Ninkovich had no time or space to let up. Chalk it up to an old quarterback sympathizing with a current one whose bones had just been rattled, something Fouts more or less acknowledged: “Well, Mike Carey [the former official who CBS keeps around to chime in nonsensically on controversial calls] disagrees with me, but he never played the position. He never played the position!’’
“So this is a personal thing for you,’’ said Eagle, the play-by-play voice.
“Yep,’’ replied Fouts good-naturedly. “I like arguing with officials.’’
Fouts’s most egregious reaction — his only egregious reaction, really — came when Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola leveled Chiefs cornerback Jamell Fleming while the latter was trying to down a punt in the second quarter. As replay showed Amendola’s hit, Fouts says, “[Did he hit him] with the crown of the helmet? Yes, he did.’’
One problem: As Fouts was saying this, replay appeared to show Amendola leading with his right shoulder. That didn’t stop Fouts from arguing something contrary to what the screen was telling us at the same moment, otherwise known as pulling a Dierdorf: “He drops the crown of the helmet right to the face of Fleming here,’’ he said.
Right. Except that he didn’t.
That wasn’t a good look for Fouts, but otherwise there was no real reason for annoyance. He said some things that ultimately proved wrong (“The Patriots have run 21 plays. Twenty of them have been passes. That’s not going to hold up.’’) or were slightly alarmist (“Little bit of an uneasy feeling here at Gillette, isn’t there?’’ he said when the Chiefs trailed, 7-3, with the ball and good field position. I don’t think anyone was especially nervous at that point, especially since we’d just exhaled after discovering that Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were back to their old selves.). But any notion that he would favor the Chiefs was a silly one given that he’s a lifelong Charger — that’s like a former Patriot pulling for the Dolphins.
Fouts’s old quarterback’s wish to see defensive penalties called in the passing game wasn’t just on behalf of the Chiefs. When Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters stood up Edelman in the end zone, Fouts wanted a flag that never came: “That movement right there should have been called,’’ he said, watching the replay. “Illegal contact. I’m not sure what the officials are looking at. That’s out in the clear open. Brady can’t believe it either.’’
Truthfully, Fouts heaped praise on the Patriots all night. A smattering: “Jamie Collins is going to catch any quarterback and every quarterback in the NFL.’’ … “They’re finally healthy, as much as they have been in months, and their primed for another Super Bowl run.’’ … “How strong is the grip of Patrick Chung? With his left hand, holding back the 260-pound [Travis] Kelce. Look at this. Remember when they had tear-away jerseys. Not today. Tremendous effort by Chung.’’ … “How about being backed up to your five-yard line and two plays later you’re at midfield.’’
He also remained silent when Eagle made a cursory mention of the Chandler Jones drama.
The most offensive thing he said all night is that it would be interesting to hear what Mike Carey had to say during a controversial play. No, it probably would not.
I’m not saying you’ll miss Fouts this week when the Patriots play the Broncos. (You had enough time to look it up.) But I guarantee you’ll be complaining about a certain someone else, and this time it will be justified.
Fouts made two annoying comments by my count during the entire game. You know what Simms calls two annoying comments? His pregame warmup.