In honor of tonight's "Thursday Night Football" game, here is a special edition of Sports on the Air:
If CBS analyst Phil Simms and Buffalo Bills Coach Rex Ryan have anything in common, it is the ability to take heat from critics.
During the Bills game with the New York Jets tonight, Simms is bound to be blasted on Twitter by many fans who don’t like his accent or what he has to say.
Simms was defended by CBS Sports President Sean McManus before the start of the season in an interview with University at Buffalo graduate Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated.
“I think he had an outstanding year, and I think he is right up there with the best of the NFL analysts,” McManus told Deitsch.
“Listening to it with a very critical ear, I think Phil is vastly underappreciated, and part of that is the overreaction to social media,” McManus said. “If you listen to what he said during some of the biggest moments of the season—he was the first one to say if Denver won the Super Bowl, Von Miller would be MVP, and he was the first one to criticize Cam Newton for not jumping on his fumble toward the end of the game. He was on top of most of the storylines for most of the game, and that’s part of the reason we won the [Sports] Emmy [for Outstanding Live Sports Special]. I would just suggest that if people listen to Jim (Nantz) and Phil with an open mind, I think they would recognize what a good job they are doing.”
“I think social media represents a minority opinion out there and it is almost wholeheartedly negative,” McManus said. “This is a very subjective business. Everyone has their opinions, and the Twitter opinions are generally negative. Phil is someone with someone with strong opinions, he’s not shy about expressing those opinions, and whenever you are that expressive with your opinions, you will get a lot of criticism.”
Like McManus, I thought Simms had a good Super Bowl. Here is what I wrote:
Calling his eighth Super Bowl, Simms didn’t give most of his critics much to complain about... He wasn’t perfect. His phrasing was awkward at times and he misidentified one player after a sack.
But Simms also saw Carolina’s blitzes as quickly as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, noticed the Broncos were spying on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to stop his runs and explained Denver’s excellent secondary was making it difficult for Carolina receivers to get open quickly for most of the game.
He even did something he often is criticized for not doing: criticizing.
After Denver linebacker and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller stripped Newton for the second time prior to the Broncos’ clinching touchdown, Simms noted that the Carolina quarterback didn’t go into the pile to try and recover his fumble.
“He decided not to dive in there,” said Simms. “I guess he made a decision it wasn’t worth it to go in there and get it.”
Ryan, meanwhile, has been under heavy heat this week from some members of the national media.
You might not listen to sports radio talker Jim Rome much anymore now that he has moved from WGR to WKBW and his program directly competes with “The John Murphy Show” on WGR. But Rome made some eye-opening statements Tuesday on his program. He said the Bills game with the Jets is a must-win for Ryan before he lightly speculated that Ryan even could be fired by the Bills bye week.
Many Bills fans might wish that ridiculous statement was true. But it ignores the patience illustrated by Terry and Kim Pegula as owners of the Sabres and the Bills.
On Wednesday’s edition of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” co-host Tony Kornheiser said he believed that Ryan is “at risk” as a coach.
Then Kornheiser added: “I’m not saying he is going to be canned.”
Makes you wonder what “at risk” means.
Kornheiser went further to say that he thought Rex was a “great hire” for Buffalo because he fit the community and then he and co-host Michael Wilbon agreed that Ryan would be great on television if he ever were fired.
Ryan’s job status would be a natural topic tonight for Simms, who is working the game alongside CBS’ top play-by-play man, Nantz. But Bills fans shouldn’t expect Simms to join the chorus after Ryan’s job.
Last January, Simms told me that Rex’s hiring of his twin brother Rob was “a really good hire.”
I would expect Simms to defend Ryan against the “sky is falling talk,” as one surprising member of the New York media did this week.
Manish Mehta, the New York Daily News writer who broke the scare story that started speculation that Bills receiver Sammy Watkins could miss the season because of a foot injury, wrote a column this week with the headline: “Bills fans are dopes for putting Rex Ryan in the hot seat in his second season.”
Wrote Mehta: “You would have thought that the Bills won three or four games in 2015 given the local reaction. Sure, Ryan’s grandiose predictions set the bar impossibly high — he has smartly toned down the rhetoric this year — but the vitriol from the fan base was sheer lunacy.”
He concluded by saying Ryan isn’t the problem.
The headline today on Mehta’s column: “Jets-Bills tonight is a must-win for Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
Wrote Mehta: “He must win to show that the Jets made the right decision to bring him back. He must win to prove that last year’s season finale is a distant memory. He must win to instill belief in his teammates.
He must win, because his team is counting on him to do just that.”
Ex-Bill Finishes 3rd on “America’s Got Talent”: Jon Dorenbos, the former Bills long snapper now in the same role for Philadelphia, finished third Wednesday night as the summer competition of the reality program ended. Dorenbos, who is a magician who specializes in cards, had a winning attitude and a heartbreaking personal story that surely earned him almost as many votes as his tricks. His father was convicted of murdering his mother when Dorenbos was 12 years old. By the way, the two-hour finale had an incredible 14.8 rating on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate.
Luke Russert Resurfaces: Russert, the son of the late Tim Russert, has taken a few months off after leaving NBC News. On Wednesday, he appeared on Kornheiser’s new podcast program. In a Twitter message, Russert told me he is “helping out when I can, not a full-time gig.”