CBS analyst Adam Archuleta said before kickoff Sunday that he expected the Buffalo Bills-Tennessee Titans game would be his kind of defensive game.
Studio analyst Bill Cowher said at halftime it was his kind of game, too, because every play was so significant.
No one in Western New York probably would disagree with either analyst after the Bills’ 14-7 win in a defensive slugfest not often seen in the NFL these days.
For those who love low scoring defensive games, Sunday's game in Nashville was as tense, enjoyable and entertaining as Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “Country Music” (which by the way is repeating on WNED-TV at 4 p.m. Sundays).
To Cowher's point, every play was significant. And Archuleta and Dedes were on top of almost all of them and added to the enjoyment and entertainment value.
I’ve never heard Dedes better. Over the years, I’ve been a frequent critic of Dedes but Sunday he saw all the penalties as they were officially called or missed, was quick to tell the story of the Bills’ new folk hero Duke Williams coming off the practice squad and set up Archuleta beautifully in assessing the play of Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Archuleta, one of CBS’ most underrated analysts, didn’t disappoint. He praised Allen for his bounce back game after his play cost the Bills the New England game a week earlier, questioned numerous penalties against both teams and was quick to give his take on the new risky Bills coach Sean McDermott on fourth downs.
He also was great describing what happened on replays; praised Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for giving Allen a conservative game plan; and gave Bills tight end Dawson Knox credit for a key block on the 46-yard catch and run by Isaiah McKenzie that set up the Bills winning touchdown.
I will say Archuleta was surprisingly soft on Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel for having his kicker – likely ex-kicker – Cairo Santos try a 53-yard field goal when down 14-7 in the fourth quarter before Santos missed for the fourth time.
“He is giving this kicker a shot at redemption,” said Archuleta.
I suspect Tennessee fans everywhere were wondering what the heck Vrabel was thinking since the Titans would have needed a touchdown to win even if Santos had made the kick.
It was a mind-boggling coaching decision on a fourth down and 4 yards to go that cried for strong criticism and Archuleta surprisingly let Vrabel off the hook.
CBS’ camera work was as sharp as Dedes and Archuleta, as viewers frequently saw replays of Bills receivers unable to get open as Allen held the ball, scrambled or was sacked. There also were several replays of penalties that Archuleta openly wondered about, with a couple of early calls and non-calls going against the Titans and a few late calls going against the Bills.
Of course, the biggest call was the decision not to reverse the call that took a Titan touchdown away because quarterback Marcus Mariota was ruled to have crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing the pass.
CBS’ officiating expert Gene Steratore expected the call could have been reversed and the touchdown would have been awarded because one of Mariota's feet was right at the line of scrimmage. Steratore explained a passer's entire body has to be beyond the line of scrimmage to be an illegal pass and he thought Mariota's right foot was right at the line of scrimmage. That’s the only time I’ve heard one of Steratore's conclusions appear to be wrong this season.
If Titan fans were upset, they should take some solace in the fact a replay showed that Tennessee lineman Nate Davis (No. 64) was 3 yards past the line of scrimmage when Mariota threw the ball and that should have been called. However, the NFL rule book says whether a lineman is downfield isn't reviewable.
Perhaps the football gods were just giving the Bills a makeup call for the Music City Miracle almost 20 years ago that gave the Titans a playoff victory when everybody in Buffalo knew that it involved a forward lateral.
The Miracle lateral by Frank Wycheck to Kevin Dyson that gave the Titans the victory was shown on the pregame show and during the game, which seemed at least one time too often.
Now on to more highs and lows of the telecast:
The "Oh Bleep" Play: That’s what Archuleta called the Allen touchdown pass to tight end Lee Smith, who was wide open because he usually is just a blocker. Undoubtedly, Archuleta meant the defender would shout an expletive after misreading the play. Of course, some Bills fans also use the expletive on Allen’s interceptions.
My Most Popular Tweet: After Williams’ touchdown, I tweeted: “Duke is proving Bills fans aren’t always wrong.” They wanted coaches to use him instead of Zay Jones and they finally did.
Buffalove: At game’s start, Dedes noted, “there are a lot of Bills fans here in Nashville. Feels like a home game here in Buffalo.” It just took longer to get home than it takes to get out of a New Era Field parking lot.
Bad Timing: Just as Archuleta said it was a good time for Allen to run up the middle because of the way the Titans defense lined up, the quarterback was sacked.
Adding Insult to Injury: As Bills offensive lineman Cody Ford was being treated for an injury, Archuleta said a holding call on Ford on the same play was a bad call.
Pastrami Time: Noting how much time Allen had to throw at one point, Archuleta cracked: “He’s back there making sandwiches.” When Dedes asked what kind of sandwiches, Archuleta replied: “It looked like pastrami.”
Fourth Down Applause: Archuleta applauded Bills coach Sean McDermott for going for it on fourth down and a yard to go with a big quarterback like Allen and the Bills made the first down.
Play It Again: The analyst also agreed with McDermott’s decision to go for it on fourth and 2 on the same drive when the Bills were in field goal range. Allen didn’t make it this time, which caused Archuleta to second guess and say he would have given the ball to Frank Gore. It wasn’t a gimme field goal; it might have been about a 47-yarder.
Dr. Dedes: After Allen took a big hit while scrambling, Dedes said you don’t want to see a quarterback taking those hits, certainly after having a concussion. It was such a big hit, you almost wondered if doctors would have looked at Allen again.
Firm Grasp of the Obvious: Archuleta said that the team that made three or four chunk plays would probably win. The Bills only needed McKenzie's play.
He Got That One Right: As CBS went to commercial while a Mariota touchdown run was being looked at for confirmation, Dedes smartly noted that the quarterback’s knee looked to be down before he scored. Steratore agreed and the call was reversed, but the Titans scored their only touchdown a few plays later.
Mr. Lucky: For some reason, CBS felt it needed to ask Steratore about an obvious face mask penalty by the Bills’ Jordan Phillips that wasn’t called. It was so obvious that you didn’t need any expert to confirm a missed call. “Buffalo got very lucky,” said Dedes. It was a huge call in a low-scoring game.
A Failure to Communicate: Movie junkies remember the Strother Martin line to Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke” – “what we have here is a failure to communicate.” Archuleta blamed a miscommunication between Allen and T.J. Yeldon for the quarterback’s only interception. After the game, Allen blamed himself.
Another Makeup Call: CBS showed footage from the Bills greatest playoff comeback win over the Houston Oilers in what seemed to be a makeup call for showing the Music City Miracle twice. It wouldn't be surprising if some younger Bills fans don’t realize that the Oilers moved from Houston to become the Titans.
Best Stat: At halftime, CBS noted that Allen was 17 of 21 passing. It didn’t note that two of the four incompletions were drops and two were throwaways. Archuleta noted that Allen has been criticized for being inaccurate before adding he couldn’t see how he could have been any more accurate in the first half.
Field Goal Trouble: Once again, it was difficult for viewers to see if the Titans field goal attempts were good or not. After the first two Santos misses, everyone but Vrabel just assumed they would be no good. The Bills have been amazing in field goal defense this year, which of course isn’t a real statistic. They’ve just played against inaccurate kickers who seem to be replaced regularly after playing the Bills.
The Missed Block: Neither Dedes nor Archuleta realized that the Bills Darryl Johnson Jr. blocked Santos' third kick, a 33-yarder. Archuleta said it looked like it was blocked but he didn't think it was and it just seemed to be a "weird" kick. The CBS replay didn't reveal the block.
Good Question: After Mariota threw a pass away while in the pocket and the pass failed to reach the line of scrimmage, Dedes noted: “Sean McDermott is wondering why there wasn’t grounding on that play.” It was a good question. Perhaps the officials ruled there was someone in the area of the pass.
Brilliant Analysis: After Allen hit several passes on the Bills first touchdown drive that led to Smith’s touchdown, Archuleta said: “He was brilliant on that drive.” Bills fans will also accept "not dumb" from Allen.
Say What?: Early in the game, Dedes said of a punt by the Bills’ Corey Bojorquez: “His punting struggles continue.” It was a 61-yard punt. I know it went into the end zone and that’s not ideal. But after the Music City Miracle, what Bills fan can argue for not letting a return happen? It ended up being my only criticism of Dedes, though he also did misidentify the Titan who was given a questionable call for roughing Allen.
Best Cutaway: Before CBS signed off to join a game in progress, viewers could see Allen give the game ball to Williams, who was lined up behind him on the final kneel down. Dedes noted it before signing off. As I said, he saw just about everything.