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Albert, Johnston make a strong effort to make a meaningless game interesting

During a long break in the Buffalo Bills’ 16-6 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, TV viewers could hear Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” playing over the loudspeaker at the Ralph.


I thought I had seen and heard everything this season, but not in my wildest dreams did I think that Swift would be the go-to singer during a break for an injury or replay.

Of course, it was a nightmare in preseason to believe that the Bills would play the Cowboys on Dec. 27 in a game that meant pretty much nothing to either team.

However, Sunday’s game was the perfect Rainy Day entertainment.

Where would a Bills fan rather be than in front of his or her TV set on the Sunday after Christmas?

The game had a healthy 36.4 rating on WUTV, the local Fox affiliate.

Fox play-by-play man Kenny Albert and analyst Daryl Johnston returned for their second straight Bills game.

They also worked the Bills loss to Washington on Dec. 20 that ended the 1 percent chance they had of making the playoffs. As it turned out, even if the Bills had beaten Washington, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs. Heck, they might not have made the playoffs if they had beaten Washington and Philadelphia the week before.

Albert and Johnston had their usual strong game, gamely trying to make a meaningless game seem interesting. My main criticism of Johnston a week earlier was how soft he was on Bills Coach Rex Ryan. Early Sunday, Johnston noted that Ryan was under increased pressure because of expectations going into the season but the analyst stopped short of saying whether the coach deserved all the criticism.

I didn't expect Johnston to go there. If I had one criticism Sunday, it was that the Fox team didn’t have as much fun as my followers on Twitter who laughed at all the strange happenings in the game. Chief among them: A face mask penalty against the Bills Tyrod Taylor, a rarity for a quarterback.

Now on to more highs and lows of the TV coverage:

Paging John Lennon: After noting all the Bills injured offensive stars missing from the game – LeSean McCoy, Charles Clay and Robert Woods among them – Johnston’s said: "Just imagine what this offense could have been." Hmm. Just imagine what the defense could have been if Rex hadn't changed it.

Who Imagined These Heroes? Bills linebacker AJ Tarpley had an interception and caused a fumble. Running back Mike Gillislee iced the game with a 50-yard touchdown run. It would have been nice if Albert or Johnson had noted that Tarpley had been demoted earlier this season to the practice squad. They did a much better job explaining Gillislee’s history, including the fact he was a Miami draft choice.

Double Coverage: Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin wore a hat and a hoodie while delivering her mostly unnecessary reports. Imagine if she had to come here when the weather was really bad. To her credit, she delivered a lot more injury updates than other network reporters covering the NFL.

Who Needs Mike Pereira? Johnston explained that Taylor received the unusual face mask penalty while running because he twisted the head of a Cowboy. I bet many analysts didn’t know that rule. Heck, I bet many players didn’t know it.

The Great Non-Debates: Albert and Johnston didn’t debate all the times that Cowboy Coach Jason Garrett decided to punt inside Bills territory. It was worth discussing.

Mario Williams Could Teach Them How to Be Invisible: On the Fox post-game show, a couple of female Fox employees started hiding when they realized they were on TV and shouldn’t have been. It was a funnier scene than anything this year on a Fox sitcom.

Where’s Taylor Swift Now? When Bills defensive end Manny Lawson tried to shake off a hand injury, I was almost surprised we didn’t hear Swift’s “Shake It Off” in the background.

Much Ado About Nothing: Johnston was pretty adamant that an offensive pass interference call against Bills receiver Sammy Watkins on a deep pass shouldn’t have been made. The Cowboys declined the penalty anyway.

The Eyes of Texas Were Upon Us: Bills fans got plenty of praise for almost filling the Ralph for a meaningless game, but during successful Cowboy plays it sounded on TV like half the stadium was full of Dallas fans.

Happy Homecoming: Albert reminisced about the two Super Bowl wins that Johnston had when the Lewiston-Porter star played for the Cowboys against the Bills. It led Johnson to mention that he rooted for the Bills to defeat Washington and the New York Giants when they lost their other two Super Bowls to NFC opponents. Then he praised the Bills resiliency back then. Nice touch. It would have been a good time for Johnston to mention the “Four Falls of Buffalo” even if the documentary aired on ESPN.

Bad Timing Award: Seconds after Johnston praised the Bills’ offensive line for protecting Taylor, Jordan Mills was called for holding.

Best Criticism: Johnston was justified in being all over Taylor for throwing the interception at the end of the first half and all over receiver Chris Hogan for dropping a long pass. The analyst also criticized Mario Williams for one poor effort. But Johnston made several makeup calls during the rest of the game. He praised Hogan for a key block on Gillislee's touchdown and for making some key catches after his drop. Surprisingly, he wasn’t all over the Bills for their terrible time management at the end of the half before Taylor’s interception.

It Must Be a Law? Johnston said Taylor had to go deep on Hogan’s long fourth down pass drop because of the Cowboy coverage even though the Bills only needed three yards for a first down. “Had to” seemed a little extreme.

A Clean Hit? Johnston thought Dallas’ Greg Hardy had a “clean hit” on Taylor on the sideline even though Bills fans thought otherwise. It looked like Hardy might have delivered an extra hit after his clean hit. It would have been nice to see an extra replay. Interestingly, you didn’t hear much from Hardy the rest of the game.

Best Pictures: Bills greats Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and injured Dallas quarterback Tony Romo were captured showing their team spirit by getting drenched on the sidelines during the game when they could have been warm at home or in a suite. In other words, the fans at the Ralph weren’t the only crazy ones there.

Best Ending: Near game’s end, Albert asked “guess who is coming to Orchard Park next week?” Then he explained the New York Jets, Rex’s old team, were coming in a game in which they could clinch a playoff berth. Johnston added that Rex can’t make the game all about his former relationship with the Jets. Not in Ryan's wildest dreams would he expect the New York media to allow that. But the game won’t be all about Rex. It also will be about Ryan Fitzpatrick, the ex Bill who was released in 2013 and now is the Jets quarterback. His play has some fans wishing the Bills would have found a way to keep him when they made drafting EJ Manuel the future at quarterback.

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