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ESPN needs to find 'MNF' team worthy of its legacy

I am not sure if Frank, Howard and Dandy Don could have made the Buffalo Bills’ 25-6 loss to the New England Patriots exciting for viewers outside of Western New York.

But the new "Monday Night Football" trio of play-by-play man Joe Tessitore and analysts Jason Witten and Booger McFarland proved – as the late coach Dennis Green used to say – they are what we thought they were.

Tessitore has a great voice, a high-energy level on big plays, sets up his teammates well and has a decent sense of humor. At one point, he played fashion consultant, saying McFarland had switched from wearing Gucci to LV or Louis Vuitton.

Tessitore also spoke of the college atmosphere at New Era Field, which looked great on television. So did the City of Buffalo in an overhead shot after a commercial.

Witten has improved in his half season in the booth now that he focuses more on coverage, but he still is a future Hall of Fame tight end learning on his new job.

Buffalo Bills quarterback Derek Anderson (3) fumbles during Monday's loss to the New England Patriots. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

McFarland, whose real first name is Anthony, has what Howard Cosell used to refer to “as a firm grasp of the obvious.” I was afraid that I was going to be counting his cliches in my sleep after midnight.

"MNF" lead producer Jay Rothman has called McFarland the Charles Barkley of the crew because he says irreverent things. McFarland had one decent line – suggesting Bills tall wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was “probably a Popeyes’ biscuit away from being a tight end.”

The rest of the time he talked a lot and said plenty of nothing.

As he has done all season long, Witten amusingly pushed back a few times on McFarland’s suggestions..

At one point, McFarland said Bills quarterback Derek Anderson had to throw the ball downfield. “I don’t think they can bank on that,” said Witten.

Witten also gets credit for calling out receivers for failing to make catches. He called out the Pats’ Josh Gordon and Benjamin for dropping catchable balls.

Some of Witten’s best analysis came when he noted the Bills were playing soft defense so New England quarterback Tom Brady was being patient and throwing short. McFarland’s best analysis was saying the Bills Mafia is alive.

Even more amusing, McFarland contradicted himself by suggesting the Bills concentrate on their running game after earlier saying they had to pass the ball downfield.

While Tessitore is on the top tier of play-by-play men, Witten and McFarland don’t even approach the insight of Adam Archuleta, who is one of CBS’ lower level analysts.

Somewhere Frank Gifford, Cosell and "Dandy" Don Meredith are rolling over in their graves about what has happened to the football property that made them legendary.

Now on to more highs and lows of the telecast.

Garbage Time Omission: With the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, the announcers started talking about league-wide issues rather than focusing on the game. Therefore no one suggested that the Bills bench Anderson in favor of Nathan Peterman to protect him from injury. Sure enough, Anderson was hurt in the final two minutes, which brought Peterman in for two completed pass plays. A case could be made to try Peterman again since Anderson has only led the Bills to three field goals in two games and has had his share of turnovers. (I could almost hear the screaming just typing that sentence.)

Biggest Fumble: The announcers didn't immediately seem to realize Anderson fumbled in his own territory after being sacked with the Bills down only 9-6 late in the third quarter. At the time, it was the biggest play of the game and led to a field goal that gave the Pats a 12-6 lead. The announcers also didn’t keep track of the first half timeouts.

Witten’s Best Moments: Soon after an apparent Bills touchdown pass from Anderson to Jason Croom was reversed, Anderson threw a pick six. Witten analyzed both plays perfectly and illustrated he just might grow into the job. He noted that Croom was being defended by a safety on the reversed touchdown and that Anderson didn’t see Devin McCourty break away from his coverage on his 84-yard pick six. The two plays meant an 18-12 Pats lead became a 25-6 lead in about 30 seconds.

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams pressures New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during third-quarter action Monday at New Era Field. (Harry Scull Jr./ Buffalo News)

Separation Anxiety: Witten said he noticed on film preparing for the game that the Bills receivers don’t get any separation, making every throw difficult. Zay Jones seems to be the one exception as he has looked a lot better this year than in his rookie season.

Stunning Moment: Going to a commercial break late in the third quarter, Tessitore seemed stunned when he said “9-6 game here.” So was most of Western New York.

Replay Please: When Benjamin was called for offensive pass interference, only one replay was shown. I would have liked to have seen another one because it looked like a weak call.

An Extraordinary Moment? You had to feel for the jewelry company that sponsors a halftime segment called Extraordinary Moments. At that point, there were only four field goals and there weren’t any big moments.

Thurman's Moment: "MNF" didn't carry the retirement of Thomas'  number live, but it carried one great line in his speech right before the second half. If you want to hear the entire speech, click here.

Trade Talk: The announcers spent a decent amount of time talking about the quarterback mess the Bills are in. Witten made a good point addressing why the Bills traded AJ McCarron, saying it would have been hard for him to be a happy backup here when he thought he would get the starting job.

Defense, Defense: Naturally, the announcers praised the Bills defense several times, with McFarland chiming in at one point saying, “the Bills defense is playing with a chip on its shoulder, playing well, holding Patriots to field goals.”

Good Timing: After Witten spoke highly of the Bills' Tremaine Edmunds, the rookie linebacker made a big play for a loss.

Stat of the Day: After Brady scrambled for a rare 8-yard run for a first down, Tessitore said, “How about the wheels of Tom Brady?” Then he added Brady was 3 yards short of 1,000 yards for his 19-year career and the quarterback has been documenting that on his Instagram.

Thank You, Twitter: "MNF" seems to take a lot of time in commercials during challenges. You could find out much quicker if calls are overturned or confirmed via Twitter when ESPN is in commercial.

Blocking Assignment: Witten thought Brady made a great block that led to a first-down run. I thought he just got in the way by accident.

Bingo: After the Bills opened the game with a wildcat and other tricky formations, Tessitore cracked: “I guess all we needed was the wishbone to win offensive formation bingo for the Bills.” Before that, Tessitore, who called college football games before getting the "MNF" job, said, “I feel like I am watching college football right now.”

Animated QBs: There was so much animation I thought I was watching Fox on Sunday. Prior to the game, "MNF" showed animation of Brady jumping from the roof of an RV onto a table to illustrate what Bills fans do in the parking lot. Later in the game, the Bills quarterback situation was animated with illustrations of all their quarterbacks who have been around in the last year.

Fake News: Before the game, Witten praised New England Coach Bill Belichick for holding Gordon accountable for a team infraction. Turns out, Belichick faked people out. He started Gordon despite reports the receiver might miss the first quarter.

What Weapons? Before the game started, McFarland said Bills coach Sean McDermott has beaten Brady before “and he feels like he has the weapons to do it tonight.” Really? He must have meant on defense.

Best Sign: It played off a popular ESPN feature and was aimed at Brady: “C’mon man retire already.” It is hard to know which will happen first – Brady will retire or "Monday Night Football" will find analysts worthy of its legacy.

email: apergament@buffnews.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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