One thing you can say about CBS’ first announcing team of play-by-play man Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms: They don’t ever give up on a game.
Simms seemed to believe the Bills still had a chance in their 27-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday well after many of their fans had given up.
“One thing we’ve learned in this league, it is never over,” said Simms with the Steelers up by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Here’s a second thing we’ve learned. The idea it “is never over” applies only when the Bills are ahead.
The Steelers were so dominating that Nantz and Simms had plenty of time near the game’s end to discuss the futures of Bills Coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
You might have expected them to discuss it earlier since CBS insider Jason LaCanfora on the pregame show speculated that Ryan could be fired as early as Monday and Taylor could be benched for the final three games.
Simms also wasn’t ready to give up on Taylor or Ryan. He took a soft, wait-and-see stance on Taylor, saying the Bills offense is geared to the running game and it is hard to have both a running and passing game.
Simms, who didn’t address the financial implications, advised the Bills to let Taylor focus more on passing over the final games to see what is capable of doing. “Just let him go the next three weeks,” said Simms. “You only get good by passing it a lot.”
Many fans who have watched Taylor fail to spot open receivers might have stopped the sentence with “just let him go” and play rookie Cardale Jones or even EJ Manuel.
Simms’ comments about Ryan, who he noted couldn’t be happy that his defense was being run over, were fodder for his Twitter critics. They were confusing to say the least. “I think it is tied together,” Simms initially said of Ryan and Taylor. Then his comments turned incomprehensible.
Like the Bills, you expected Simms and Nantz to be better than they were Sunday.
Nantz had one uncharacteristic error, saying that Steeler back Le’ Veon Bell had passed 1,000 yards in rushing a quarter or two before he achieved the milestone. But at least that led to some humor, with Nantz saying Simms always tells him he is ahead of his time.
Simms was sharp to note the early dominance of the Pittsburgh offensive line and smartly advised the Bills to have Taylor throw quick, short passes to offset the Steelers’ pass rushing dominance before they did it.
But the best aspect of CBS coverage may have been the overhead shots of the Bills’ pass routes as Taylor looked for open receivers. In fairness, on one look, no one was open.
On Taylor’s one interception, Simms noted that he had two-deep safety coverage and “all you need to do is read it.”
All you need to do? Reading has been pretty much Taylor’s season-long problem.
Now it is time to read some more highs and lows of what will be the last broadcast done by a top CBS team this season.
Playoffs? In Buffalo? Nantz essentially explained why CBS’ No. 1 team was at New Era Field by saying earlier in the week Simms told him “we’ve got a playoff game” because it was must-win for both teams. By the third quarter, Nantz might have been wondering why he was here, too.
Best Story: The delay caused by the rubber pellets on the field at halftime allowed Nantz time to tell a beautiful story about Roethlisberger telling Bills great Jim Kelly he wanted to name his son's middle name Hunter after Jim's late son.
Risky Business: After Bell, who had 236 yards rushing, tried to jump over Bills defenders in the fourth quarter (a picture of it is in today’s Buffalo News), Simms said that he expected Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin to tell him it is not smart of a great player to do such risky things. Shortly later, sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson said a Steeler doctor told Bell to be smart and added he was giving him a heart attack.
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: CBS cameras had a quick shot of Bills and Sabres Owner Terry Pegula. He looked about as happy as President-elect Donald Trump did when he met President Obama in the White House.
The Odds Were Against It: After Nantz mentioned the Bills gave up touchdowns 15 of the last 16 times when an opponent was goal to go, the Steelers scored to make it 16 of 17 times. It is pretty hard to do anything 17 times in a row, although the Bills will have managed to miss the playoffs that many times.
The Streak Ends: The 12-game streak in which Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams was referred to by a commentator as underrated ended. He was out injured, with the Steeler rushing dominance proving Williams is underrated.
Did They Believe It? LaCanfora’s accuracy rate is about as good as Taylor’s, which made you wonder if that was why Nantz and Simms never addressed the insider’s pregame claim directly. In their game end comments, they never mentioned LaCanfora’s report.
Nitpicking Time: Nantz joined last week’s play-by-play man Ian Eagle in calling UB the University of Buffalo instead of at Buffalo. I give up
Quick Read: Simms noted Steelers tried to cover Bills receiver Sammy Watkins with a safety on his touchdown catch and added it was a bad idea.
Quick Misread: Simms blamed Steeler star receiver Antonio Brown for running the wrong route on an interception, watched the replay and changed his mind and blamed it on Big Ben.
The Eyes Have It: After Tomlin quickly and successfully challenged a key Watkins third-down catch, Simms said: "Good eyes." It was one of at least three drops that didn’t help Taylor.
He Who Hesitates Isn’t Lost: After Bell took a few seconds to find a running hole, Simms said: “That might have been the longest hesitation I've ever seen." He hasn't seen much of Taylor in the pocket.
I Dare You to Find a Better Comment: As the Steelers bottled up the Bills running game early, Simms said: "They are daring Buffalo to throw the football down the field."
Best Excuse: After Nantz was late to see a penalty against Pittsburgh that negated a touchdown, the play-by-play man said “a flag was hidden in the snow.”
Oversights: I would have liked to have seen if the Steelers’ Brown had his second foot down after a long reception and would have liked to have heard Nantz note that Steeler Man of the Year nominee Arthur Moats is an ex-Bill.
The Spy Who Stayed in the Cold: Simms was quick to note that Steeler linebacker Ryan Shazier was spying on Taylor to prevent him from running out of the pocket, which had the side benefit of preventing back LeSean McCoy from running anywhere. The strategy worked.
Great Expectations: Before the start of the second half with the Bills down, 14-7, after getting only 93 yards of offense, Simms said: “Like the weather, the Bills have weathered the storm. I expect them to play much better on offense in the second half." So much for expectations. The Bills didn’t score another touchdown until the fourth quarter.
Follow The Leader: Simms noted early that the Steelers followed New England’s blueprint of starting the game with several passes and no rushes to offset and confuse the Bills defense. And the Bills made the Steelers look like the Pats.
The Fallout: The Bills loss assures that Western New York fans won’t be hearing CBS’ top teams of Nantz and Simms or Eagle and Dan Fouts the rest of the season. The announcers for the Bills game with winless Cleveland Sunday will be play-by-play man Tom McCarthy and analyst Adam Archuleta, who worked one previous Bills game. One thing we’ve learned in this league is they don’t send the top announcers to call games involving teams whose seasons are essentially over.