This was a very good day for NBC, thanks largely to a terrific game and dramatic finish that should result in the largest U.S. TV audience ever, cogent commentary from Cris Collinsworth, Al Michaels’ typically detailed call, and exemplary production work, including fabulous replays of Jermaine Kearse’s acrobatic late-game catch.
Oh, this wasn’t a flawless broadcast: There was too much awkward self-promotion of NBC events (did we really need a preview of an Olympics 18 months away?), not enough in-game update of player stats, a pre-game audio snafu and no explanation of a classless Seattle penalty.
But NBC did far more worthy of praise than derision.
Collinsworth generally makes fewer obvious comments than most game analysts, and he was sharp throughout Sunday. Early on, he explained why a five-yard running-into-the-kicker penalty should have been a 15-yard roughing-the-kicker penalty. Just before halftime, he suggested Seattle throw to No. 4 receiver Chris Matthews, who’s 6-5, because of his size advantage. Russell Wilson did just that, for a touchdown.
Collinsworth was masterful dissecting the matchup of the Patriots’ passing game against Seattle’s defense. And he justifiably condemned Seattle for calling a pass from inside the Patriots' 1 yard line and less than 25 seconds left, which resulted in a Malcolm Butler interception.
“I can’t believe the call; you’ve got Marshawn Lynch in the backfield –-- a guy borderline unstoppable on this part of the field,” Collinsworth said. “I cannot believe that call.” (The Seahawks still had a timeout left.)
NBC's studio analysts agreed with Collinsworth, including Tony Dungy. "You have to run the ball, no excuses," Rodney Harrison said. But it was unfortunate that NBC didn't see ESPN's stat indicating that Lynch had scored only one touchdown this season on five rushing attempts from the opponent's 1-yard line. But the Patriots allowed opponents to score 81 percent of the time on runs from their 1 or 2 yard line --- which was worst, from a defensive standpoint, in the NFL this season.
Pete Carroll told NBC's Carolyn Manno that the play-call was his fault and that he thought he would have been able to run the ball on third or fourth down.
### Michaels, always prepared, knew that Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell nicknamed the previously-obscure Matthews “Hardball” which is the name of the MSNBC show hosted by the other Chris Matthews.
But NBC cut away when Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin reportedly celebrated a touchdown by simulating the act of pulling down his pants and performing a bodily function. Michaels or Collinsworth should have explained and criticized Baldwin’s shenanigans, which drew a penalty.
### NBC only incrementally advanced the ball deflation scandal, noting the NFL still hasn’t interviewed Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and that contrary to rumors, the Ravens didn’t tip off the league about the Patriots possibly deflating footballs, according to Baltimore coach/NBC guest analyst John Harbaugh.
But Bob Costas’ interview of Brady --- and Collinsworth’s subsequent comments --- were the most compelling element of the pre-game show.
Costas asked Brady if it was fair to say that a ball boy hypothetically wouldn’t deflate a ball without knowing Brady wanted it that way. Brady said that was fair.
But Brady tap-danced when Costas said he wanted to make sure Brady was saying that “no matter what may or may not have happened, you had no prior knowledge of it.” Brady responded that he “talked about that in the past” and he doesn’t “want that to become” a story again but that “how ever the report comes out” will be “news to me.”
Collinsworth and Michaels then appeared on set with Costas, and Collinsworth shook his head.
“There was too much wiggle room in that for me,” Collinsworth said. “That’s an easy answer. If you have nothing to do with those footballs, you go, ‘Bob, I’m sick of this! I’m telling you right now, Bob, I had nothing to do with those footballs being deflated.’”
Collinsworth said that in a meeting with Brady, he asked Brady to “look me in the eye” and say that he didn’t say anything to a ball boy or assistant coach to make anyone believe he wanted the balls deflated. “He said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Collinsworth said.
But Michaels noted it’s one thing for Brady to say that in a room with a few people, another thing to say it in a nationally-televised interview…. Dungy, earlier on NBC’s pre-game, said if anyone with the Patriots knew about the balls being deflated, “it severely damages their reputation and legacy.”
Other highlights from NBC’s nearly 10 hours:
### Best personnel move: NBC hiring personable, insightful Harbaugh for its studio Sunday. Harbaugh said his issue with the Patriots’ unusual formations in their playoff game was the fact that “officials were showing the same signal for an eligible receiver and ineligible receiver” and that they’re supposed to be different. “The officials are trying to catch up with these tactics.”
### Best commercials: 1) The all-electric BMW ad with Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric, using 1994 Today Show footage in which Couric asked someone “can you explain what the Internet is?” 2) Carnival Corp. playing audio of President Kennedy’s speech at the 1962 America’s Cup over images of the sea. 3) Budweiser, because it’s almost impossible to go wrong with puppies and Clydesdales.
### Weak: Commissioner Roger Goodell declining NBC’s interview request. Maybe he was afraid of Costas’ questions.
### Best pregame factoid: Courtesy of Peter King: Of the 63 Seahawks who traveled to the game, only two shared a room (Russell Wilson and Robert Turbin), who have been doing that since 2012. Wilson turned his room into a film room.
### Visually stunning: 1) NBC’s majestic Grand Canyon shots. 2) Katy Perry’s well-received halftime show, featuring dancing sharks, a carnival of colors and the always popular mechanical tiger.
### Oddest visual: A cook slicing vegetables in the background as Savannah Guthrie interviewed President Obama.
### Oops: Obama indicating he’s the first president since George Washington to brew beer in the White House. But Washington never lived in the White House.
### Best idea: Costas suggesting the NFL change its playoff overtime rules to a full 10-minute quarter to ensure that both teams get the ball.
### Most bizarre comment: NBC figure skating analyst Johnny Weir, wearing something that resembled a black and blue padded armor and a glittery football hat, said Super Bowl media day was “burly, testosterone-filled and smelled of man.” That, among Weir’s other comments, left Costas admitting he’s “nearly as speechless as Marshawn Lynch.”
### Worst pregame feature: Weir and Tara Lipinski asking players how to spruce up their uniforms.
Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... If you missed it, please check out the last post for the Sunday buzz column, plus a Sunday morning UM recruiting update with a disconcerting trend.