The season finale of Talkin’ TV’s assessment of the network announcers covering Buffalo Bills games is sort of like the season finales of pay-TV series like Showtime's “Homeland” and "The Affair."
A lot more important things happened in the semifinal episode – last week’s loss to Oakland that eliminated the Bills from the playoffs – than in the season finale that primarily set up talk about next season.
But here are the top dozen takeaways from the CBS broadcast of the Buffalo Bills’ 17-9 victory over the New England Patriots featuring play-by-play man Spero Dedes and analyst Solomon Wilcots.
1. Wilcots Certainly Is Consistent: Wilcots was working his third Bills game of the season and the third time wasn’t a charm. He was as consistent as ever in being excessively positive. To paraphrase coaching legend Bill Parcells, Wilcots is what he is. He looks for the positive so it was no surprise that he was supportive of keeping Bills Coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Doug Whaley because of the value that “consistency” brings to players and organizations. “The general manager (gets) players to fit Doug Marrone’s system,” said Wilcots. Marrone might disagree on that point if you believe reports of friction between the Dougs. Wilcots also said they assured him they got along fine, despite reports to the contrary.
Wilcots added quarterback Kyle Orton could be the short term answer next season and the offense can improve after he gets the work in minicamps and preseason that he didn’t get this year. You could practically see frustrated Bills fans across the country throwing things at their sets. But quarterbacks often don’t get a lot of love in their cities. The Bills and their fans have chased quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Fitzpatrick out of town when they weren’t any better alternatives so chasing Orton after a 9-7 season would have been consistent with how this team operates. However, it became what CBS' Chris Simms would call a "mute" point this morning when Orton announced his retirement and thereby set off another debate about whether he should have played Sunday instead of EJ Manuel.
In fairness to Wilcots, just about all analysts are as consistently conservative as Rush Limbaugh. They consistently support coaches and general managers on the hot seat. Wilcots isn’t the only one who has been more positive about Orton than local talk show hosts or fans. Of course, he can express support of the Bills in charge because doesn’t have to worry about selling tickets or appeasing fans.
2. Credit Where Credit Is Due: After a long completion from Orton to Sammy Watkins during the Bills first touchdown drive, Wilcots noted that the rookie caught the pass off cornerback Darrelle Revis, who took him out of the first game between the teams.
And give Dedes some credit. He asked Wilcots all the right questions, including to assess the Bills decision to give up a 2015 first-round draft pick to move up four spots to grab Watkins. Wilcots essentially punted the question, saying “time will tell” whether Watkins will be a great player and adding there were “a lot of great wide receivers this year.”
3. Bad Timing: Wilcots surprisingly gave Orton a lot of credit for being the quarterback of record for wins over Green Bay and Detroit. Orton played very well in a 17-14 win over Detroit, though the Lions scored a touchdown on an interception. But the defense and special teams were keys in the 21-13 win over Green Bay. As Wilcots gave Orton credit, the quarterback fumbled after a sack and put the Patriots in good field position. It was as if the football gods were telling Wilcots it wasn’t the right time to give Orton credit for those wins.
4. A “10 Pound Gorilla”: When addressing how successful the Patriots will be in the playoffs, Wilcots called New England the “10 pound gorilla,” which set off some Twitter laughter. It was funnier than anything in the movie “The Interview,” which had me laughing more than I expected over the weekend. I think Wilcots was referring to an “800 pound gorilla,” an expression that means the Patriots have the power to crush anything. I’ve never heard of a 10 pound gorilla but don’t imagine it would scare too many people.
5. The 4th Down, 10-Pound Gorilla: The “10 pound gorilla” hanging over the head of fans frightened by Marrone’s conservatism is the coach’s annoying and consistent tendency to punt on fourth and short yardage in opponents’ territory. He did it a few times Sunday, without any debate by the announcers about whether being that conservative in the fourth quarter was such a good idea. The failure to have the debate looked even odder when Wilcots weighed in on Pats Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to punt on a fourth down and 21 yards to go late in the fourth quarter. Wilcots originally thought Belichick might go for it but then supported the decision to punt.
6. Best Quote: We heard a few times what Marrone told CBS’ announcers about why Orton started the finale instead of giving EJ Manuel some experience: “The NFL is not a tryout league.” There could be an asterisk to that Marrone quotation: “Unless we’re talking about trying out first time NFL head coaches.”
7. NFC Playoffs? NFC Playoffs? Why Are You Talking About Playoffs? With the Pats in the red zone, CBS thought it was time to show viewers watching a game between two AFC teams what the NFC playoff picture looked like. That is what pregame and postgame shows are for.
8. The End of Conspiracy Theories? Dedes and Wilcots accurately noted that Bills defenders got away with a few holding calls, which was more surprising since it came against a team known for getting calls. I suppose a new conspiracy theory could crop up – the Bills only get calls in relatively meaningless games.
9. A Fast Game Delivers a Bonus: The game ended at 3:45 p.m., 40 minutes before the CBS window allotted for the game. That gave viewers a chance to see the end of Kansas City’s victory over San Diego and to learn that Baltimore’s victory over Cleveland meant the Bills wouldn’t have made the playoffs even if they had beaten the 2-12 Oakland Raiders in the semifinal and finished 10-6 instead of 9-7.
10. Billieve It: While a graphic illustrated how long it has been since the Bills made the playoffs, Dedes noted “it is hard to believe” it last happened in 1999. That’s unless you live here.
11. Buffalove: There was plenty of it Sunday as Dedes frequently noted that the Bills were trying to get a winning record for the first time since 2004 and their first win at Gillette Stadium in history. The fact the Patriots didn’t play several starters set up a debate over the importance of the Bills victory. Most pregame experts who knew the Patriots were going to play their junior varsity picked them to win anyway but that didn’t persuade the naysayers who felt the Buffalo win is meaningless. “The first winning season in 10 years,” noted Dedes. “That’s certainly a big deal to Doug Marrone. "Of course, the fact that Pat quarterback Tom Brady didn’t play in the second half was the 220-pound gorilla in the situation. As one of my Twitter followers suggested – ok, it was my editor – it means that next season when the Bills play in New England, the announcers will say “The Bills have never won here when Tom Brady played the whole game.”
12. Wishful Thinking: I’m sure Bills fans will be hoping the Pats game in New England will mean something in 2015 – and that Buffalo will be doing so well that a stronger and less conservative analyst than Wilcots won't get to call three games next season. But that's wishful thinking on the announcing front. One of the reasons Buffalonians hear so many JV announcers calling games before mid-December is because Buffalo is a very small TV market in the NFL. And as well as things are going downtown, Buffalo's market size is going to remain consistent.