You asked for it!
After my weekly assessment of the national television announcers who cover Buffalo Bills games, I periodically am asked one question: “When are you going to review John Murphy and Mark Kelso?”
The Bills’ 33-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday was the perfect time to review the WGR radio team via the station's website, for several reasons.
The primary reason was that I am in Florida, which meant I was unable to hear the CBS team of Tom McCarthy and Adam Archuleta on the game. You didn’t really think anyone outside of Buffalo or Cleveland would watch this game, did you?
I also had reviewed McCarthy and Archuleta’s performance on an earlier Bills game.
Because CBS was sending one of its lower-level teams for the Bills game with the winless Browns, I also figured more Western New York fans were listening to the local radio coverage while watching the game on TV or shoveling their driveways.
Finally, I haven’t reviewed Murphy and Kelso in years.
Not surprisingly, not much has changed since the last review.
Murphy still has that great play-by-play voice, asks his analyst the right questions, has an underappreciated sense of humor and generally avoids being a cheerleader while pointing out calls that hurt Bills opponents.
But at times Murphy’s mistakes make you want to shout. And I don't mean in a positive way.
He wasn’t at his finest Sunday. He confused Cleveland quarterback Robert Griffin III with Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor on one play, confused Bills back LeSean McCoy with Mike Gillislee on another play, said the Browns were on their own 13-yard line play when they were on the Bills’ 13-yard line and called an extra point by Bills kicker Dan Carpenter “good” before correcting himself and saying Carpenter missed another one.
He also wasn’t as enthusiastic as expected on McCoy’s first touchdown run, which could be forgiven since it wasn’t easy getting excited in a game against the Browns. At least Murphy’s enthusiasm returned on McCoy’s second touchdown run.
Perhaps most problematic for listeners is how often plays go for much bigger yardage than Murphy’s calls initially indicate.
Kelso, who has one, drone-like voice level, sees everything on the field, which is a good thing when he notices penalties that negate big plays or key blocks by Jerome Felton or Richie Incognito. It isn’t a good thing when he gets way too technical or when he describes what every player is doing on a previous play before the next one is snapped.
I can’t think of anything more annoying than the thought of watching a game on television while hearing Kelso dissect every replay. It also would make me want to shout! He even dissects plays that don’t count because of a penalty.
Listening to Kelso is like listening to a lengthy TV weather report when all you want to hear is whether it is going to snow or rain. Just get to the point. In Kelso’s case, I just want to know who did what well on a play and who messed up, not what everybody was doing on the play. Like me, he needs a good editor.
I also wanted to shout in the pregame show when Kelso declared the Bills defensive line as “our defensive line” in the pregame show. The former Bills defensive back should realize that now that he is a broadcaster, he at least has to fake being objective.
The third member of the WGR team, sideline reporter Sal Capaccio, could teach Kelso a thing or two about being concise. He often reveals some quick information about injuries and other issues in a few words rather than a filibuster.
Of course, doing radio is different than doing television. However, Kelso would be wise to listen to some TV analysts and see how they describe plays in a few words just as effectively as he does in several sentences. He also might notice silence isn’t a bad idea at times.
Now on to more highlights of the radio broadcast:
See You in September: Before the game started, Capaccio cracked it was “a late- arriving crowd or not-arriving crowd” at New Era Field. That led Murphy to humorously add: “Late arriving next August or September.”
Powerful Comment: Kelso astutely noted before the game that the Bills' power running game would be key. It was.
"Decisive" Comments: Kelso seemed to be Taylor’s agent, repeatedly saying that Taylor was “decisive” on several throws. However, he also noted the Bills quarterback chose to run sometimes when receivers were open and he was afraid to pull the trigger. At one point, Murphy and Kelso praised Taylor for being “decisive” on an incompletion.
Fashion Expert: Murphy’s sense of humor came through when he said he was trying to be charitable before referring to Cleveland’s “ugly road uniforms” and adding, “They just don’t look right.”
Weather Report: Capaccio said in the pregame report that it was “really not windy” on the ground and added “short passes shouldn’t be affected that much.”
Strong Criticism: Some moments after the Bills settled for a field goal after having a first down on the Browns five-yard line, Murphy wisely asked Kelso what he thought of the play-calling. Kelso said since two long runs by McCoy got the Bills to the five-yard line, he would have wanted the Bills to “run the football” rather than throw an incomplete second-down pass. When the Bills ran the football for a touchdown the next time they were in a similar position, Kelso noted the Bills didn’t “make the same mistake.”
Gentle Criticism: At one point, Murphy told Kelso he thinks that Taylor’s tendency to avoid pulling the trigger on passes is as big a problem as his inaccuracy. By game’s end, Murphy was singing Taylor’s praises, saying that “was about as well as he has played.”
Impressive Hang Time: Murphy’s call of a 30-yard end around run by the Bills’ Brandon Tate was amusing. “That ball hung on his right hand for about five seconds,” said Murphy of Tate’s catch of a pitch from Gillislee. It made you want to see the highlight.
Great Call: After Gillislee’s touchdown, Murphy had his most enthusiastic call: “That’s why they call him Touchdown Mike.”
Flag Football: Murphy was amused when Cleveland Coach Hue Jackson couldn’t get his challenge flag out of his pocket in what appeared to be a "a snowmobile suit,” saying it was like he was “looking for a nickel in his back pocket.” It is even harder for Jackson to find a win. Jackson then learned the play wasn’t able to be challenged, which surprised both Murphy and Kelso and never was explained.
Reprehensible Remark: Kelso thought a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Bills’ Zack Brown was “reprehensible” because he thought it was a legal hit. “That was reprehensible to call that,” said Kelso: “It was a clean hit. … Now maybe you might not be able to hit the quarterback at all.”
Let’s Go Orange: When members of the Browns staff came running out with orange capes to warm up players during a brief timeout, Murphy asked Kelso if the capes helped anything in 20 to 30 seconds. Kelso decisively said no.
Stumbled and Bumbled: After the Browns narrowed the Bills lead to 17-10 in the third quarter on a long drive, Murphy said they “stumbled and bumbled” their way back into this one. Those are words that recently have been used to describe what is going on behind-the-scenes with the Bills.
The Good Hands People: After Murphy speculated that Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus may have been injured, Capaccio said Dareus was just fine and was just having his hands taped so he could grab things in the cold.
Best Line: Noting the Bills were technically still in the playoff hunt immediately after the win, Murphy cracked: “It almost seems like a stay of execution.” It also might have been for Bills coach Rex Ryan, whose name amazingly was rarely mentioned during the game.
Honestly: Murphy noted that the victory would be “discounted” because the Browns are winless and added the Bills’ seven victories this year have come against poor teams and the New England Patriots with their third-string quarterback. Now that was very honest for a team’s play-by-play man. Then he asked Kelso what that tells you about the Bills. “It tells you they have a little work to do,” said Kelso. Honestly, Murphy and Kelso have their strong points, but they a little work to do to improve, too. And that might be a little charitable.