Play-by-play man Tom McCarthy was the least known of CBS' three-man team calling the Buffalo Bills' 20-16 loss Sunday to the Cincinnati Bengals, but he had the best game.
McCarthy has a great voice, a terrific excitement level on big plays and asked analysts Steve Beuerlein and ex-Bill Steve Tasker appropriate questions at key points of the game.
I'm generally not a fan of a three-man booth and they are extremely rare these days. But Beuerlein and Tasker see different things and often see things differently, which alternatively can enhance -- and annoy -- viewer enjoyment.
During their frequent entertaining disagreements over whether passes should have been caught, field goals should be tried and other game strategy, it was easier to side with the more critical Beuerlein than Tasker.
Tasker and Beuerlein have worked together for several years and are able to kid each other about their pro careers, which can add humor to the telecast.
At one point when they were discussing their playoff history – Beuerlein was a member of the Dallas team that crushed the Bills in the 1993 Super Bowl, 52-17 -- Tasker joked to Beuerlein: "I hate you."
Beuerlein, who played quarterback in the NFL for 15 seasons, was probably more popular with Bills fans who occasionally hate the play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He credited Taylor with a great throw to wide receiver Brandon Tate on the Bills' only touchdown.
But he was extremely critical of the quarterback on the Bills' final series, when Taylor held the ball so long that he was sacked when Beuerlein saw an open receiver downfield. Beuerlein also took shots at Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton for terrible decisions, including almost throwing an end zone interception before the Bengals' last field goal.
Tasker knows he can't win when he does Bills games because viewers here either think he is a homer or too negative. He certainly wasn't a homer Sunday. I'm sure he and Beuerlein annoyed some Bills fans by not weighing in on some possible late hits on Taylor that weren't called, including one by the Bengals' Geno Atkins that appeared to briefly injure the quarterback.
As expected, Tasker was sharp illustrating his expertise on the Bills and their personnel. Since Tasker still lives here and works for the team that knowledge was expected.
He said he was a positive analyst in an interview last week and that came through at game's end.
As CBS prepared to sign off, Tasker said, "The Bills have to feel good about themselves" holding a strong offensive team to 20 points that gave them a chance to win.
Somehow, I doubt many Bills fans viewers were thinking as positively considering all the chances the Bills had to score in a game the Bengals were trying to lose.
Here are more highs and lows of the coverage of a game that didn't have any of the bizarre plays, coaching challenges and questionable coaching decisions of the first four games.
Ratings Time: The game had a 36.0 rating on WIVB-TV, the local CBS affiliate. Despite the Bills 3-1 record going into the game, that was slightly lower than the ratings for the two previous games, 36.8 and 36.9. You would have thought Sunday's rating would have been higher if fans were buying into the belief this team has playoff potential.
It Wasn't a Hughes Mistake: Tasker and Beuerlein agreed that a key roughing- the-passer penalty by the Bills' Jerry Hughes couldn't have been avoided and really wasn't his fault just when some Bills fans assuredly were thinking "there he goes again."
Tasker noted that Hughes stumbled before hitting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton: "It isn't deliberate, but it counts," said Tasker. "There is nothing that Jerry Hughes could have done about that," added Beuerlein.
Word of the Week: It is luggage: When discussing the tape on the wrist and thumb of Bills tight end Nick O'Leary, Tasker called it "a little luggage." "NFL players carry around their aches and pains like luggage," explained Tasker.
Challenging Moment: The Bills used their final timeout with under four minutes left. It was a curious strategy for several reasons, including because it meant they couldn't challenge a bad call. None of the announcers questioned it.
Déjà vu: The Bills got the benefit of a bench penalty on the Bengals after an official ran into someone on the sidelines. That's the same call that went against them at a key time in their loss at Carolina. Beuerlein noted that teams usually get a warning. This time, CBS had a replay. It didn't during the Carolina game.
Anthem Report: For the first time since the controversy started, CBS didn't show the National Anthem either on its pregame show or before the game. It did show players standing during a moment of silence for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
VP Needs a Better Scouting Report: At halftime, "NFL Today" host James Brown noted that Vice President Mike Pence left the Indianapolis-San Francisco game because many 49er players protested during the anthem.
When Brown turned to teammate Bill Cowher, you might have expected a comment about Pence. Cowher couldn't have changed the subject faster to discuss the Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game. As I tweeted Sunday, if Pence went to the game without realizing that some 49ers might protest, then he needs a better scouting report.
Snake Bit: After a second interception of a tipped Dalton pass intended for A.J. Green, Tasker said the Cincinnati quarterback "was snake bit." "You can’t throw it better than that," said Tasker. Beuerlein agreed that Green should have caught the ball.
Tale of the Tape: The cameras caught Dalton's heavily-taped foot, which he injured but not enough to stop playing.
Picture Imperfect: CBS lost the picture at one of the worst possible times -- shortly before halftime as the Bills seemed on the way to kicking a field goal. Viewers apparently just missed a couple of bad Taylor throws. That made a debate between Tasker and Beuerlein about where the Bills needed to be to try a field goal a moot point.
Strange Suggestion: At one point, Tasker suggested the Bengals might go for it on a fourth down inside their own territory in a tie game. The Bengals punted.
He Needs a How-to-Guide: When a holding call against the Bills' Logan Thomas negated a long McCoy run, Tasker noted that is the kind of block the tight end struggles to make. Beuerlein blamed it on Thomas' inexperience. "He just doesn't know how to do it yet," said Beuerlein.
Howard Cosell's Firm Grasp of the Obvious Award: Tasker does have a tendency to repeat the obvious at times. In the final minutes with the Bills down by four points and without timeouts, Tasker said the Bills were in four-down territory and wouldn't punt. That's pretty much the same thing.
A Home Run: When Tasker noted the Bills "are a tough out, using a baseball term," McCarthy said: "I appreciate that." He is the play-by-play voice of the Phillies.
The Odd Testament: I had to laugh when Beuerlein said the high percentage of negative yardage plays on LeSean McCoy runs plays "is a testament to the offensive line's poor play." Or poor play-calling. Testament is usually used for something positive.
Greed Isn't Good: Tasker noted that Taylor waited too long to throw to an open tight end Logan Thomas around the 15-yard line on an incomplete pass because he got too greedy and wanted him to go deeper for TD. "That could have been a touchdown," added Beuerlein. All true. But Taylor also was right – Thomas should have headed to the end zone.
Going to School: After Bengals veteran receiver A.J. Green beat Bills rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White for a 77-yard touchdown on the Bengals' first possession, Beuerlein said: "He got schooled by one of the very best in the NFL." It took a while to see the replay, a common occurrence Sunday.
Over-the-Top Camera Work: CBS frequently had good overhead shots showing whether Bills receivers were open or not before Taylor was sacked. Usually, the answer was not.
Boomer and Rex: Former Bengal Boomer Esiason picked the Bills to win on CBS. Former Bills Coach Rex Ryan picked the Bengals to win on ESPN a week after correctly picking the Bills to upset Atlanta. It is too bad they both couldn't have been wrong.
Playing the Percentages: Well after Green's touchdown, Beuerlein noted: "A.J. is going to win 8 of 10 times on any corner you put out there." Later, Beuerlein noted teams only win about 10 percent of the time when they lose the turnover battle as badly as the Bengals did Sunday.
Super Moment: When CBS showed an old photo of Tasker in his Bills uniforms kissing one of his young sons after one of the Bills' Super Bowl losses, the ex-Bill noted that son is now 30. That led Beuerlein to show his Super Bowl ring. The entertaining exchange was just another reminder of how long ago the Bills' glory years were as they are presently in a 17-year playoff drought.
That's a lot of luggage for these Bills to be carrying around. Bills fans have to hope the percentages should be on their side again before Tasker's son turns 35.