Ian Eagle and Charles Davis have the call of the Patriots’ matchup with the Steelers Sunday on CBS. This is a good thing for viewers.
Eagle and Davis, who along with sideline reporter Evan Washburn are in their second season as CBS’s No. 2 NFL broadcast team, are an easy listen. They’re informed, on point, and humorous when a moment calls for it. They could easily be a No. 1 crew.
They’re also a welcome reminder of when Patriots broadcasts featured a high-end broadcast team practically every week. That is not the case anymore as Bill Belichick and the Patriots transition from a two-decade dynasty to whatever their next phase is.
We learned that last Sunday when CBS assigned its No. 4 team of Greg Gumbel and Adam Archuleta to the Patriots-Dolphins opener. Upon rewatch, Gumbel and Archuleta, the former Rams safety, weren’t as inept as I felt they were immediately after the game.
Gumbel, now 76, was his usual jovial presence in the booth, while the 44-year-old Archuleta, a pleasant enough fellow, was at least self-deprecating when he was wrong. Then again, he had a lot of practice being wrong.
Archuleta questioned why the Dolphins were going for it on fourth and 7 with 24 seconds left in the first half, saying, “I don’t know if I really love this decision.” Seconds later, Dolphins receiver Jaylen Waddle was zipping into the end zone with a 42-yard catch and run.
“There you go, baby,” he said. “Greg, I loved that decision.”
Archuleta also predicted the Dolphins would send an all-out blitz early in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins rushed three. Another time, he speculated that Damien Harris was in to block on a third-and-3 play. He got the carry.
And with 10 minutes left in the game, Archuleta uttered what might stand as the goofiest non sequitur we hear all season when he asked Gumbel if he knew that the Queen owns all the dolphins in the United Kingdom. I half-expected him to follow up by asking Gumbel if he likes gladiator movies.
Weirdest of all, as the game went on, Gumbel and Archuleta acted as if it was some sort of mystery who was calling offensive plays for the Patriots, when it was clearly Matt Patricia.
Later in the game, Gumbel oddly dismissed the importance of the play-caller, after treating it like a crucial story line for much of the broadcast.
“So, we’re sitting here trying to figure out who is making the calls on offense for the New England Patriots,” said Gumbel, “and I’m sitting here going, ‘What’s the difference?’ ”
Maybe this is nitpicky. Hey, that’s what I’m here for, folks. But know this: What we got last week from Gumbel and Archuleta should be a reminder to appreciate a game called by Eagle and Davis, and to not take it for granted when Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, CBS’s No. 1 team, call the Patriots-Packers game in two weeks.
Getting the best national broadcast teams to call so many of their games was a perk of the Patriots’ excellence for all those years.
If the Patriots trend toward mediocrity this season, beware: We’re going to get stuck with mediocre — or worse — broadcast teams, too.
There are rare occasions when a broadcast team becomes popular enough that it draws curious viewers that have little interest in the outcome of the game. John Madden had that effect when he burst onto the scene in the early 1980s, and Romo generated that sort of you’ve-gotta-hear-this-guy buzz when he joined CBS five years ago. But it’s rare. I will acknowledge, though, that a top broadcast team’s presence can have the effect of enhancing the magnitude of a game. That happened Monday night when Joe Buck and Troy Aikman made their ESPN “Monday Night Football” debut during the Seahawks’ win over the Broncos. Buck and Aikman’s presence helped make “MNF” feel like a big deal again … Amazon Prime’s much-ballyhooed debut as an NFL rights-holder with Thursday’s Chiefs-Chargers matchup was plagued by technical difficulties, including muddy sound quality — the crowd at Arrowhead Stadium, one of the loudest venues in the NFL, could barely be heard — and low picture quality. But the broadcast team of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit was on point, as expected, and the studio program features some promising new analysts, including Richard Sherman, Andrew Whitworth, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Tony Gonzalez, formerly of CBS’s studio program, still doesn’t bring much to the table … The Patriots-Dolphins game got a 23.9 rating on Ch. 4, down considerably from last year’s 33.1 rating for the Patriots’ opener, which was also against the Dolphins. That game was in the more desirable 4:25 p.m. window, but the drop-off is still notable. Ratings should be better for the Steelers game. If they’re not, it might be time to wonder if Patriots fans are losing some interest.