The anticipation was as inflated as expected. Tom Brady’s return to New England on Sunday night was one of the most hyped NFL games in years and certainly the most anticipated this regular season. Media outlets of all sorts didn’t hold back, Brady and Bill Belichick, the star-studded QB and his longtime complicated coach.
It couldn’t have been much better for NBC. Yesterday, the network released its bottom-line results. The Sunday night numbers were glittering. “Buccaneers-Patriots registered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) average of approximately 28.5 million viewers across NBC TV, Peacock, NBC Sports Digital, and NFL Digital platforms,” the network proudly announced, adding, “marking (it) the largest NBC SNF audience since Week #17 of the 2012 season when Dallas faced Washington in a win-and-in game for the NFC East title. Bucs-Patriots also ranks as the second-most watched NBC SNF game since the package debuted in 2006.”
But the commentary by Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and Michele Tafoya was better once the splendor of the pre-game, adjective-filled coronation was behind them. This game though wasn’t anticlimactic as many are after big pre-game ceremonies. Sunday the game was the story, a down to the end nail-biter.
The trio are best calling the on the field games, making viewers comfortable that they’re in good hands behind the microphones. The memorable primetime extravaganza was most likely Tom Brady’s last in Belichick’s playground. But I wish everyone would have let the game breathe a little bit.
The game was unexpectedly tight. Tampa Bay was a touchdown-plus favorite. Once Michaels and Collinsworth did more game calling, I enjoyed their commentary more than the complementary luster.
Here are my ten observations:
- Before the game, NBC showed some quotes from tailgaters. During the third quarter, the network had audio of more fans’ reactions to Brady’s return. It was a good personal touch and showed how personally significant this game was to New England fans.
- Leading into the start of the game, NBC showed a video entitled “The Return” that it showed the previous week. The video included Adele’s “Hello” as the background song. This was overkill because it showed it during last week’s Green Bay-San Francisco Sunday Nighter. At that point, everyone was ready to watch a football game.
- The one made for TV dramatic moment was set to open when Brady would break Drew Brees’ all-time passing yardage record. A story within a story on a memorable night. But the epochal development didn’t fall into place as NBC had hoped. Brady completed a pass to Mike Evans for a 28-yard gain. This pass put him one yard ahead of Brees on the all-time list. As fate would have it, the completed pass was initially measured at a 27-yard gain to tie Brees’ record. During the ensuing commercial break, The bean-counters updated the measurement at 28 yards not 27. Al and Cris had to make the best of a muddled moment. The record books are etched but the drama of the moment was lost. (Michaels, Tafoya and Collinsworth, l-r, above)
- During the second quarter, NBC showed footage of the 2005 reserved parking space signs for Brady and Bill Belichick. Cris Collinsworth quipped that “both of them were in the office at 5 a.m. in the morning so they didn’t need the parking spots.” It was a witty remark that demonstrated the irrepressible work ethic of both men.
- The game voices addressed the commentary that we’ve heard about the Brady-Belichick dynamic. Apparently, according to the coach, they said, the chatter was “taken from 20 seconds from different conversations and making (the relationship) something that it wasn’t.” Belichick stressed that he and Brady had a great relationship.
- NBC had its studio team of Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy, and Drew Brees in New England. When they were previewing the halftime show, all three were holding umbrellas on a Foxboro night of intermittent rain. Tirico remarked wittingly, “Where’s (NBC’s Today Show Weatherman) Al Roker when you need him?”
- During the fourth quarter, Collinsworth diagrammed a New England play, underscoring that “Mac Jones was running Tom Brady’s plays.” It was interesting to listen to Collinsworth’s analysis comparing the two throughout the game. New England and Tampa Bay run similar systems, as Bill Belichick affirmed to the media earlier in the week.
- Michaels, Collinsworth, and NBC’s production team under Fred Gaudelli did a superb job bringing up pertinent statistics that added to the context of the game, particularly during the fourth quarter. They cited how the Patriots had one rushed yard in the game while Brady had six himself. Cris referenced the number as one of the big differences in the game. Michaels also brought up how Patriots’ quarterback Mac Jones’ 19 straight completions tied a New England record held by Brady.
- NBC turned a missed field goal attempt into a John Madden moment. After New England’s Nick Folk missed a 56-yard field goal with 59 seconds left, Michaels suggested that viewers listen to the sound of the football hitting the goal post. Michaels: “Some doinks are better than others,” as Folk’s kick bounced perceptibly and distinctively outside the left upright.
- Naming Brady as one of the Players of the Game seemed a bit ridiculous to me. Just because he was the subject of the night and the obvious post-game interviewee does not necessarily mean he had a great night. His stat line was 22-of-43 for 269 yards. Make of it what you will. Yet, Michele Tafoya did a masterful job with the post-game Brady interview. She simply said, “It was special.” Brady then spewed a minute or so of accolades about the Pats’ fans. Winning seven rings alone affords him center stage.
Overall, NBC did what it was tasked to do with this game. The network turned it into a spectacle. Some might interpret the production as “bigger than football.” Be it what it was, big games get hyped. It’s unavoidable. Me: More X’s and O’s less all the sensational stuff.