CBS analyst Tony Romo has had a better year than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. And that's saying something.
The former Dallas Cowboy quarterback, now the No. 1 analyst on CBS broadcasts alongside play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz, illustrated early Sunday during the New England Patriots 37-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills why he has been named the rookie of the year and MVP in broadcasting in the same season.
Because of his solid national reviews, there are great expectations for Romo on every game he calls. On Sunday, he exceeded them.
Perhaps the best illustration of what separates Romo from other analysts came in the second quarter when he noted the Bills defense was leaving them vulnerable to Brady passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski on the outside.
Sure enough, Brady soon hit Gronkowski for a touchdown pass on the outside that tied the game at 10.
It was one of several excellent points made by Romo, who acts as much like an offensive and defensive coordinator as he does an analyst.
When Buffalo's Jordan Poyer intercepted a Brady pass and ran it in for a touchdown to give the Bills a 10-3 lead, Romo instantly noted that the Bills confused Brady into thinking they were playing a Cover 2 defense.
Romo seemed genuinely excited after the pick six, either for the Bills or for CBS for having a competitive game on a Sunday in which he and Nantz were calling the only contest between two AFC teams with winning records.
In the second half, Romo also was sharp to note that the Pats were going to run the ball down the Bills' throats when Buffalo's defense went with a smaller lineup.
Sure enough, that was exactly what happened.
Romo also illustrated a great understanding of the NFL rules, a decent sense of humor and solid chemistry with Nantz, who asked him all the right questions.
He isn't the most critical analyst, but Romo called out Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor a few times for waiting too long to throw to what were considered "open receivers in the NFL" and not getting rid of the ball before he was sacked a few times. In fairness, he also praised Taylor for some excellent throws.
Although he didn't say it in so many words, overall you got the sense that Romo isn't a Taylor fan.
On the other hand, Romo was a huge supporter of Bills rookie Coach Sean McDermott. He noted that the Bills defense confused Brady as much or more than any other team and just needed a stronger pass rush to be more effective.
He also praised McDermott for calling a timeout after looking at the Patriots lineup on a proposed fourth and 1 yard to go play, leading to a New England timeout after the Bills adjustment. The Pats then decided to kick a field goal rather than go for it. I'm not a fan of the words "great timeout" but Romo made a good case in using that phrase.
That was great analysis that you don't usually hear from other broadcasters.
Here are more highs and lows of Sunday's CBS coverage:
Risky Business: McDermott took some risks in this game, which made it all the more surprising he decided to try a 50-yard field goal on a 4th and 1, down 23-16. "I'm going for it," said Romo. But it didn't sound like a strong conviction.
That's Garbage: Deep in garbage time with the Pats ahead 37-16, in the fourth quarter, Nantz started comparing the MVP season of the 40-year-old Brady with other old-timers, including New York Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly in 1959. (I actually saw Conerly play when I was young kid.) That led to a Nantz anecdote about Pat Summerall answering a network call for his roommate, Conerly, that led to Summerall's broadcasting career. Romo responded by cracking that CBS was calling for Dallas tight end Jason Witten when it got him.
Nice Tribute: Nantz narrated a nice tribute in the pregame show to the late, legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg, famous for saying "oh, my!" after big plays.
Challenging Remarks: Romo and Nantz seemed to think the touchdown reception by the Bills Kelvin Benjamin at the end of the first half would stand. "I don't see enough there (to overturn)," said Nantz. Neither did all of CBS' studio analysts. It was overturned. Later, Romo and Nantz accurately predicted that the Pats would win a challenge of a spot and be awarded a first down. A few plays later, they noted the officials gave the Patriots' Danny Amendola a first down that he didn't earn and the Bills didn't challenge.
The Deans of Officiating Speak: Dean Blandino, the head of NFL officiating a year ago, posted a video explaining why the overturned Benjamin touchdown at the end of the first half should have stood. Fox officiating expert Mike Periera agreed, tweeting: "Regarding the Buffalo no touchdown, nothing more irritating to an official than to make a great call and then someone in a suit in an office in New York incorrectly reverses it. It is more and more obvious that there isn't a standard for staying with the call on the field."
The Grinch Wore Stripes: Romo looked at a guy in the stands dressed in a Grinch costume and called him Belichick. Actually, the replay official was the Grinch.
Peterman? Romo's biggest mistake came when he briefly suggested that the Bills put backup Nathan Peterman in the game before quickly realizing he was wrong.
More Laughter: When the Bills were given a penalty for having 15 men on the field, Romo sarcastically said "you can't play with 15. Fourteen is questionable, 15 is a bit unfair." When the Bills play the Patriots, 12 would seem fair.
MVP Talk: Nantz seemed ready to award it to Brady without any competition. But the Los Angeles Rams' Todd Gurley is getting love elsewhere. And so is Philadelphia's injured quarterback Carson Wentz.
Oh My (Goodness)! When the Bills were in the red zone at the end of the first half, Nantz referenced the crazy call at the end of New England's win over Pittsburgh a week earlier and asked: "Weren’t we in this position before?” After Bills tight end Charles Clay dropped a sure touchdown pass as did Steelers tight end Jesse James the week before, Nantz asked “Oh my goodness, are we in Pittsburgh again?” When Benjamin's touchdown on the next play was overturned, it was clear they were symbolically in Pittsburgh again.
The Dream: With the Bills ahead, 16-13, Nantz said: "What a game this has been." "A broadcaster's dream," added Romo. "A dream," corrected Nantz," "is coming down to the wire."
Compassionate Time of Year: There was a great shot showing the Patriots' Trey Flowers being upset after the injury to Bills back Travaris Cadet. It was followed by a shot of some Patriots consoling Cadet.
Beat the Clock: Romo realized one of the Patriots' only two penalties late in the first half enabled the clock to stop with 13 seconds in the first half and allowed the Bills a couple of shots at the end zone. He also noted the injury to Cadet cost the Bills a timeout by rule when the Patriots seemed ready to call one.
Praise and Soft Criticism: When the Bills decided to go for it on fourth down inside the red zone, Romo declared “I like it.” After it failed, he noted they ran the same play as they did on third down “and Taylor decides not to throw it and scramble.” That seemed to be a soft criticism.
Quick Thinking: After Poyer's touchdown, Nantz smartly noted that it negated the Bills' fourth down failure a few players earlier.
Questionable Call: Romo thought a pass interference call on the Bills' Micah Hyde on an underthrown Brady pass was questionable and added Hyde didn't deserve to be faulted on the coverage.
Channeling Rex: Romo frequently said what former Bills Coach Rex Ryan said earlier on the ESPN pregame show: The Bills need to get a pass rush against Brady. Near the end of the third quarter, Romo noted the Bills only had one "hurry" of Brady.
You Can Say That Again: At one point, Romo sounded like a rookie. He noted "communication didn't get communicated" on one defensive play.
Hoop Dreams: CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson communicated one interesting tidbit before the game -- McDermott showed the Bills highlights of Wofford’s basketball upset of North Carolina as motivation. Of course, Wofford didn't have to deal with the same officials or with Gronk and running back Dion Lewis.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays: After it was clear that the game wasn't going to be a broadcaster's dream and go to the wire, Nantz noted the final score wasn't indicative of how competitive the game was. Romo followed by giving Bills fans a present they get annually – hope. "They are coming and New England feels them," said Romo. "They know Buffalo has a bright future." Dream on, Bills fans.