It was almost as stunning to Buffalo fans as the Bills’ dominance of the Dallas Cowboys in a 26-15 Thanksgiving Day victory.
I’m talking about the perceived pro-Dallas flavor of the CBS telecast almost until play-by-play man Jim Nantz proclaimed after a shot of Bills owner Terry Pegula celebrating in the visiting owner's box with 5:48 left in the game, "what an exceptional performance before the nation, beating America’s Team on their home turf.”
A few minutes later, Nantz proclaimed, “these Bills are for real. Found out today.”
Those were strong makeup calls by Nantz for anyone thinking there was too much concentration on the Cowboys until the announcers had to give the Bills their due.
When Nantz and analyst Tony Romo were announced as the broadcasters for the game, I wrote “Bills fans undoubtedly will be looking to see if Romo illustrates any bias toward his old team.”
Undoubtedly, the former Cowboy quarterback fueled the anger of Bills fans as at times he seemed reluctant to declare the obvious about poor officiating hurting the Bills.
You would have thought Nantz and Romo would have gone overboard to seem impartial. After all, they work for CBS, which overwhelmingly carries AFC games and rarely gets games involving the Cowboys of the NFC.
I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist or likely to see the Bills being disrespected. Emotions can cloud the judgments of Bills fans, so it is good to take a step back from immediate reactions.
But almost from the start of the pregame show to finish, one could understand why some Bills fans may have thought CBS’ broadcast seemed like a preseason game produced by the Cowboys.
That may be because they don’t understand the national TV power of the Cowboys.
Some of the early emphasis on the Cowboys was justified. After all, Cowboy Chaos was the theme of the week with owner and General Manager Jerry Jones putting coach Jason Garrett on the hot seat after the loss to New England four days earlier.
A friend of mine, Dallas television critic Ed Bark, wrote me that he didn’t see the pro-Cowboy vibe Thursday but could see how one could since Romo is more familiar with the Cowboys and the focus point of most Dallas games is on all the drama surrounding them.
But I’m sure the overwhelming nature of Cowboy talk Thursday was at times stunning to Bills fans prone to feeling disrespected.
It started with every member of “The NFL Today” crew – Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Nate Burleson and Bill Cowher – picking a Dallas victory.
This is the NFL. Every team – maybe except Cincinnati this season – has a chance for an upset. You would have thought one “expert” would have picked the Bills.
It continued with the decision to put Cowboy great Emmitt Smith in the booth during game action. Important game action.
Of course, Fox did the same thing, putting Detroit great Barry Sanders in the booth during the Lions' 24-20 loss to the Chicago Bears.
I hated it during the Lions game and hated it even more during the Bills game even before Smith turned into a Cowboy cheerleader. This wasn’t a preseason game.
Smith was talking with the game tied, 7-7, as the Bills' Star Lotulelei intercepted a Dak Prescott pass. It appeared CBS wanted Smith to leave the booth, but he stayed around long enough to watch Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka miss a field goal.
“Don’t say goodbye to me that quick,” said Smith. “Hello, goodbye. He missed it! Yay, I can leave on that one.”
CBS should have been embarrassed. If the network was going to put Smith in the booth, he should have at least been told there is no cheering in the booth.
This was different than Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly ending his poignant remarks that served as the tease to the broadcast with “Go Bills.” Kelly wasn’t in the booth and the game wasn’t going on. It was a light moment after a feature that may have moved people to tears.
To Romo’s credit, he did many of the things that have made him the NFL’s top analyst. He discussed the improvement in Bills quarterback Josh Allen in his second season; predicted a pass to Cole Beasley; praised Bills coach Sean McDermott for a couple of strategic timeouts; and noted the Cowboys guessed wrong on what defense the Bills played on a key, unsuccessful fourth down near the goal line at the end of the third quarter with the score 23-7.
And Nantz found the right enthusiasm level on some of the big plays, including the incredible one in which Allen fumbled a fourth down snap, picked the ball up and got a first down.
“He is still going,” said Nantz. “Look at Josh Allen.”
“The quarterback out-aggressived the entire defensive line,” added Romo, inventing a new word. “Honestly, this is why his teammates love him. He s a football player through and through.”
Romo also got Nantz to say he had never seen that before. If Nantz hadn’t seen it, nobody has.
By game’s end, Nantz seemed to want to soothe the hearts of the Cowboys. He asked Romo what kind of vibe it would be for the Cowboys for a Thanksgiving meal after losing.
“Dak Prescott’s grandmother came from Louisiana,” said Nantz. “What is it like for this team?”
I feel for Prescott's grandmother. But Nantz appeared to be saying, “the poor Cowboys.”
Nantz would have been wiser to answer the inevitable critics in Buffalo by speculating about how much fun the flight home to Buffalo would be for Bills players.
Now on to more highs and lows of the broadcast:
Best Line: After the trick play in which Bills receiver John Brown hit Devin Singletary for a touchdown, Nantz said: “The man they call ‘Smoke.’ What a smokescreen.”
Unbelievable: When Garrett chose to go for a first down on fourth and inches from his own 19-yard line, Romo proclaimed: “This is unbelievable.” The Cowboys made the first down.
Best Camera Shot: CBS caught McDermott unsuccessfully trying to get a timeout before a missed Dallas field goal.
Give Him a Hand: It took a while, but CBS eventually carried a replay that showed Lotulelei got a pinky on the ball that changed the trajectory of a missed Dallas field goal right before halftime.
Playing with Fire: At halftime, Esiason said of Allen: “The kid plays with fire in his belly. Why? Because he’s from Firebaugh, Calif.”
The $100 Million Question: Comparing the halftime stats of Allen on the left to Prescott on the right. Esiason said “If there is a $100 million quarterback in this game, I’d say the guy on the left in Josh Allen.” Prescott is looking for a new contract worth at least $30 million a year.
Cantaloupe on Thanksgiving Menu: Burleson noted Allen was “raised on a cantaloupe farm. But it seems like his cantaloupes are dropping right now.”
Pulling a Leg: CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson presented Allen with a turkey leg after a postgame interview, fulfilling the quarterback’s fantasy as a youth of winning a game in Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Losing Their Appetites: After showing turkeys being roasted on spits with Dallas getting destroyed, Nantz noted that Cowboy fans had lost their appetites.
Family Time: CBS showed several shots of Allen’s family in the stands, with Romo jokingly saying “there’s only 6,000 of them.”
Meaningless Stat: Prescott threw for 355 yards, which illustrated the obsession with Allen’s inability to reach that mark is meaningless.
Hairy Moment: After one of Beasley’s big plays, Romo spoke of the “great hair of his.”
Hey, Macarena: To illustrate the Bills haven’t had this good a record since 1996, there was a mention of the dance that was popular then.
Not That Surprising: With the Bills up, 22-7, Romo said he was surprised the Bills didn’t go for two points to take a three-score lead at 24-7 lead. If they tried and failed, Dallas would have needed only one two-point conversion to tie instead of two after touchdowns.
The Bucket List: At game’s start, Wolfson said playing in Dallas has been on Allen’s bucket list for “a long time.” He has a bucket list? He is 23.
Zebra Report: CBS officiating expert Gene Steratore was “kind of surprised” by a roughing call against the Bills’ Jerry Hughes and told Romo that a pass interference call against a Cowboy covering Bills tight end Dawson Knox was a good call after the analyst deferred to him. A hands to the face call against Jordan Phillips negated a Prescott interception. “Do you really see it?” asked Romo. “That’s a tough call.” He added Dallas received a couple of bad calls a week earlier in New England. Translation: It was a bad call. But not as bad as one official overruling another and calling a Cowboy reception a touchdown before it was overturned by replay because the receiver didn’t get his second foot down. Nantz, Romo and Steratore all quickly agreed it wasn’t a close call. Romo said a late hit by Xavier Woods on Allen “was close at the end.” It was as late as a call against Phillips earlier. And while Woods hit Allen, Phillips appeared to hit a teammate.
Maybe Buffalo? After saying Baltimore and San Francisco looked like the class of the league and mentioning three or four other teams as possibilities, including New England, Romo added: “And maybe Buffalo. At some point, you have to take them serious.” I could practically hear all of the Bills Mafia saying, that’s as unbelievable as going for it on fourth down on your own 19. The point appears to have been reached.