I am a huge fan of CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan.
He is great calling big plays, like when LeSean McCoy “was off to the races” on his 53-yard run during the Buffalo Bills’ 30-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.
He does his homework, as illustrated by noting that Bills receiver Justin Hunter had a cousin who was a receiver for Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor at Virginia Tech and that defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman set an interception record for touchdowns at USC on the field in which Sunday’s game was played.
He set up his analyst, Rich Gannon, beautifully by asking him key questions, like whether Tyrod is a “franchise quarterback.”
But he made a few regrettable mistakes Sunday, too.
The most notable was when he claimed Bills' Robey-Coleman was drafted by Rams Coach Jeff Fisher when he was coaching Tennessee. Former Channel 4 sportscaster Paul Peck pointed out on Twitter that Robey-Coleman actually signed as an undrafted free agent by the Bills. I’m guessing Harlan might have confused Robey-Coleman with Hunter, who was drafted by the Titans.
Harlan’s up-and-down performance was in keeping with the analysis of Gannon and CBS’ camerawork.
CBS missed the start of the Rams’ only touchdown play for a promo and had a slightly confusing angle on the Rams' faked punt, but had some great end zone replays.
Gannon said some funny things, some interesting things and many routine things.
Gannon elicited some unintentional laughs when he confused Taylor with Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor, who is much taller than Taylor and now is considered more of a wide receiver than a quarterback The former most valuable player of the NFL also punted when asked Harlan’s biggest question of the day – whether Taylor is a franchise quarterback – and was silent a few times when coaching decisions could and should have been debated.
Here are more highs and lows of the broadcast:
The Great Debates: Gannon supported Fisher’s decision to go for a field goal with the Rams down, 23-16, at the Bills four-yard line because the Rams defense was playing so well. It was a questionable call since a fourth-down failure would have pinned the Bills deep in their own territory. Gannon questioned Fisher’s decision to try a fake punt deep in his own territory that backfired and led to the Bills final touchdown.
On the other hand, Gannon wasn’t asked about Bills Coach Rex Ryan decision to decline a 10-yard penalty before the Rams’ final field goal or Fisher’s decision to accept a Bills five-yard penalty to give Taylor room enough to find Bills receiver Marquise Goodwin for a clinching touchdown.
Dumb Moment: Gannon earned some laughs when he quickly noted that Taylor lined up behind guard Richie Incognito instead of center Eric Woods on a botched snap and added: “This is amazing,” said Gannon. "I’ve done some dumb things in my life, but I don’t know if I’ve ever done that."
Gannon the Politician: The analyst sounded like a politician when asked the Franchise Quarterback Question. Gannon said Taylor “I think he is a tweener. He is not biggest quarterback, not the most accurate quarterback but he is a real playmaker. And they are finding more and more about him…We need to see what he can do in year two." He also questioned whether Taylor’s height is an issue and added his “accuracy at times can be a problem.” After further review, Gannon really was saying he doesn't know, which sounded like a no.
Questionable Prediction: Gannon predicted that the first post-game question Fisher would be asked would be about the fake punt. It could have just as easily been about kicking the field goal or taking the 5-yard penalty before the Bills scored.
Best Line: Harlan on former USC star Robey-Coleman scoring at his alma mater field: "He is reliving his past in the present."
He Gets Paid for This: After halftime, CBS sideline reporter Scott Kaplan said Fisher told him the Rams "ultimately have to score points."
Great Expectations: At halftime, Harlan said to Gannon: "This is not the game you and I expected to see." The Bills’ halftime lead of 16-13 was expected to be around the final score.
One of Life's Mysteries: The start of the Rams touchdown play was missed for a promo for “2 Broke Girls,” the dreadful comedy that incredibly is still on CBS and carried in syndication.
Best Tweet: A former WNYer apparently living in Missouri noted the huge holes that McCoy had during the game and tweeted: “The last time a Bills RB had lanes like this in LA, Al Cowlings was driving him.” He, of course, was referring to OJ. Simpson’s Bronco ride.
Great Replays: CBS had a great shot of Bills receiver Robert Woods not getting his feet down in the end zone on a potential touchdown and Hunter getting his feet down for a touchdown two plays after that. It would have been nice to see some replays of how the Bills offensive line dominated and got those lanes for McCoy and how they kept Rams star Aaron Donald in check.
Questionable Predictions: Before the game, Gannon said a low-scoring game was expected. When the Bills took a 13-3 lead, Gannon added the Rams aren’t built to play from behind. They tied the score twice after that.
Bills Fans Cheer: After the Bills ran out of timeouts inside the 10-yard line with 3 seconds left before the first half and had to kick a field goal, Gannon said “that wasn't a great use of the timeouts." He thought Taylor wasted some time running rather than throw an incompletion.
Blame Game: If Bills fans were blaming cornerback Stephon Gilmore for a 31-yard Ram reception, Gannon said he was expecting safety help over the top, something that quarterbacks turned analysts see better than anyone.
Great Shots: Besides the end zone shots, CBS had a great shot of Taylor unsure if Hunter caught his touchdown pass in bounds. I just wish CBS had showed a closer view in its replay of Dan Carpenter’s blocked extra point, which didn’t look like it got very high off the ground.
Snap Judgment: Harlan gets points for noting Hunter's caught a touchdown on his first snap as a Bill.
Major Story: At game’s end, Harlan said, the Bills "are one of the major stories right now in AFC." I doubt many saw that comment coming three weeks ago. However, my esteemed editor, Bruce Andriatch, tweeted: “I figured they would be a major story, but it would have been because of people getting fired."