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Pats present ratings risk for NBC

Some Thanksgiving leftovers:

* After the Buffalo Bills' game with the New England Patriots was flexed into NBC's Sunday Night Football package, CBS Sports President Sean McManus wasn't happy about his network's loss of the Pats.

At a sports symposium, McManus said the flex plan was intended "to make sure that in the second half of the season the prime-time network package didn't get stuck with a bad game. It was never intended to cherry pick the best game."

Then came the McManus comment that indicated how unimportant the Bills were to the move away from Chicago-Seattle.

"I think the Patriots versus Cornell would probably be a game they would put in prime time now," he said.

Ouch. After the Pats demolished the Bills, 56-10, and looked like they would make every team in the league look like Cornell, I doubt that the second half of McManus' remarks would be true anymore.

It was a bad game for NBC that had most of America signing off at halftime, when New England had a 35-7 lead. That was well before play-by-play man Al Michaels said of the Pats' performance: "It is like looking at great art."

Nationally, the game had a 9.3 rating, making it the third-lowest NBC telecast of this season's first 11 games. Locally, the game had a 33.1 rating on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate. That was about 25 percent lower than the Bills-Dallas game on ESPN and Channel 7. The first hour of the Pats game averaged more than a 40 rating, but by game's end only the most long-suffering Bills fans remained. The ratings slipped to a 23.5 at 11 p.m. and 19.5 at 11:15 p.m.

Undoubtedly, the Pats' dominance may have NBC executives a little nervous about this Sunday's game, which features New England against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Pats are a 24-point home favorite, an incredible figure in the NFL. The last thing that NBC needs is another great New England work of art.

In a conference call, Executive Producer Fred Gaudelli tried to make the best case for the Pats-Eagles game. "Philadelphia is obviously a more experienced team and probably a better team than Buffalo is right now, so we're hopeful the game can remain somewhat competitive," Gaudelli said.

"Blowout TV with the Patriots is really interesting because you don't know where it's going to go. Last Sunday night, the level of play was hard to imagine you were seeing what you were seeing."

It's hard to disagree with that in Buffalo. Before the game, NBC had hoped the fan atmosphere inside Ralph Wilson Stadium would be an attraction. But as the game got out of hand, NBC analyst John Madden understood why the crowd was out of the game. "What's a crowd to do?" he said.

Madden and play-by-play man Al Michaels had to go so deep in the garbage time bag that they talked about the oddity of the referee's schedule and the size of Buffalo City Hall. They also downplayed the chances that Pats coach Bill Belichick would pile the points on against the Bills because he respects Bills coach Dick Jauron so much. Though fans in the stadium booed the Pats' decision to go for first downs rather than field goals with a big lead, Madden didn't consider it piling on, nor did national commentators during the week.

In their defense, the Pats also punted from the Bills' 36-yard line on a makeable fourth down with 3:56 left.

* During last week's CBS pregame show, former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher listed his top 18 quarterbacks in the league. Not surprisingly, J.P. Losman wasn't among them.

* Speaking of Losman, it's hard to say whether the Pats abused the Bills more than WGR talk show host Mike Schopp verbally abused the quarterback's defenders this week. Even for Schopp, his arrogant display was over-the-top. It's a wonder anyone who disagrees with him bothers to call or listen anymore.

* Warning: A Miami sports columnist has speculated that the NFL might consider flexing another Bills home game, Dec. 23 against the New York Giants. Right now, Tampa Bay-San Francisco is scheduled. I wouldn't worry about it yet. It would be dependent on how well the Bills do from now on and whether the Giants continue to do well. NBC also might not be so quick to add a Bills game after Sunday's disaster.


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