I was mildly critical of CBS analyst Charles Davis when he worked the Buffalo Bills’ "Hail Murray" loss to the Arizona Cardinals alongside play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle.
I expected more from the analyst that CBS lured from Fox to be part of its No. 2 team.
He exceeded my expectations Saturday from start to finish in the Bills’ 27-24 wild-card playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
To use one of Davis’ favorite words Saturday describing the aggressiveness of Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich, the analyst was “uber” sharp.
Legendary analyst John Madden once told me he judged his performance by whether he hit all the main points in the next day's analysis. By that measure, Davis was as sharp as Bills quarterback Josh Allen during the game.
He said more interesting things in the first quarter Saturday than he did during the entire Arizona game.
He questioned some debatable decisions by Reich, noted the Bills had no answers for covering the Colts’ tight ends and speculated the Bills saved the running version of Allen for this playoff game.
“Today, he is the running game,” said Davis of Allen.
Davis topped it off at game's end by noting that Micah Hyde, the Bills safety who knocked down the Hail Mary pass by Colts’ quarterback Philip Rivers short of the goal line at game’s end, was one of the three Bills defenders beaten by Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins on the Hail Murray from quarterback Kyler Murray.
Eagle, who had a memorable call of the “miraculous” and “absolutely unimaginable” Hail Murray, had another terrific call at game’s end that will be admired much more by Bills fans.
“It is over,” exclaimed Eagle. “It took a quarter of a century and the Buffalo Bills have won a playoff game.”
After a brief pause, he referenced Reich's role in the Bills comeback game victory over the Houston Oilers.
“The Colts were hoping for a horseshoe hero,” added Eagle after a pause. “Not today. No comeback for Frank Reich.”
Eagle also had a terrific call of the Allen to Diggs 35-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Bills what appeared to be a comfortable 24-10 lead before Davis explained how Allen looked off a Colt defender on the opposite side of the play.
Some Bills fans may have felt it appeared to take a quarter of a century before the replay decision whether Indianapolis receiver Zach Pascal fumbled in the final 30 seconds after making a first-down catch.
CBS’ officiating expert Gene Steratore and Davis thought it was a fumble. So did Boomer Esiason on the CBS post-game show. So did Mike Pereira, Fox's rules analyst, in a tweet.
If it had been ruled a fumble, the game would have been over. But Pascal was ruled down by contact, which gave the Colts four shots in the final 30 seconds to go for a tying field goal or even score a winning touchdown.
At that point, the situation for Bills fans surely was scarier than all the CBS promos for “Clarice,” the upcoming series based on Jodie Foster’s character in “Silence of the Lambs.”
The fans' anxiety level also was high during Allen’s one poor play in an otherwise strong game – the 23-yard loss and fumble near midfield. Bills tackle Daryl Williams’ recovery with under three minutes left in the game may have saved Allen and the Bills from a horrific and historic loss.
The fumble led Eagle to recall Allen’s meltdown in last year’s playoff game against Houston, which certainly was on the minds of many Bills fans.
However, Davis noted the difference this time was Allen wasn’t tense as he was against the Texans and was just trying to make a play.
Now the next playoff game is on the minds of Bills’ fans. It will be carried on NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) Saturday night.
Now on to some more highlights of CBS' coverage:
“SNL” Repeat: After Bills kicker Tyler Bass hit what turned out to be the game-winning 54-yard field goal with about 8 minutes left, Eagle reprised the line made famous on “Saturday Night Live” for a national audience. “That’s terrific Bass,” said Eagle. He used the same line after a Bass field goal in the Arizona game.
Steelers Fans Could Shout: During the pregame show, studio analyst and former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said Buffalo “has the best fans in the world bar none. Pittsburgh fans are pretty good, too.”
Vocabulary Lessons: Cowher and studio analyst Phil Simms noted Bills fans are very talkative when visiting teams ride to the stadium. “They have a very interesting vocabulary when they are talking to you,” said Simms. Their vocabulary surely was expanded after the Pascal play wasn’t overruled.
Weather Report: If it is Buffalo, you know there is going to be a weather report: “It is beautiful today at One Bills Drive,” said Eagle before kickoff. The sun – which isn’t often a word in Buffalo’s January vocabulary – may have even had an impact on the number of passes dropped by receivers. When the Colts were seeking a tying field goal, Eagle added that it wasn’t windy by Buffalo standards but it was windy.
The Reich Stuff: Before the game, Davis said this of ex-Bill Reich, the quarterback of the Bills' greatest comeback playoff win over Houston: “He’ll be a hero forever, but he won’t be a hero today.”
What’s That Sound?: With 6,700 Bills fans in the stands, Eagle noted that Rivers was going to be dealing with some noise, which “is not something he is accustomed to” this season.
Reload, Reload: Bills fans could clearly hear Allen shout the audible “reload, reload” at the line of scrimmage before he threw the touchdown pass to Diggs.
Best Ad-lib, Analyst Department: When Allen ad-libbed a draw into a 3-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox, Eagle noted: “He’s a runner, he’s a thrower.” After a pause, I couldn’t tell if Eagle or Davis said: “He’s both.” Davis smartly noted the Bills were so close to the goal line that their offensive linemen couldn’t go illegally down the field to be penalized and have the TD called back.
Baby Talk: Who didn’t laugh when a picture of Allen as a toddler was shown to explain the Bills fortunes changed in 1996 when he was born?
Clock Management: It appeared the clock ran off five seconds – from 19 seconds to 14 seconds – in the final minute of the Colts’ final drive for no reason. However, officials ruled an Indianapolis wide receiver fumbled backwards out of bounds so the clock kept running.
You Can’t Touch This: After the Bills scored their first touchdown, as CBS went to commercial, it cleverly played the MC Hammer tune the Bills danced to last week at practice.
Eddie Van Halen Time ('80s reference): When Allen got a Colts’ lineman to jump offside to extend a touchdown drive, Davis noted: “You have to know the situation, you have to know what they’re trying to do.”
The Broadcast MVP: The one area Davis had a tough time with was playing referee. He was wrong more often than he was right in speculating whether plays were going to be overturned. Steratore was the MVP. He was called on more than usual, notably ruling that Gabriel Davis got his feet in bounds on three catches and that an interception by a Colt hit the ground a few plays before an Allen touchdown run.
Best Bills Run: CBS showed a replay of Bills coach Sean McDermott running to call timeout so there would be time for officials to see if Pascal fumbled. Although the play wasn't overturned, the lengthy wait before the decision was made gave the Bills time to rest in a game that the Colts won the time of possession battle.
Clones? Davis' suggestion that Bills backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were practically clones seemed off the mark. They may be similar in size, but Moss is counted on much more for the tough inside yards.
Rubber Pellets: Steratore noted on one play that the movement of rubber pellets on the sideline was evidence that Gabriel Davis made a catch inbounds on a key play in the final two minutes of the first half. Last week, Steratore talked about “puff of tar” as evidence.
Debatable Call: Davis thought the Colts were in four-down territory with a 10-7 lead near the goal line until the Bills tackled Colts back Jonathan Taylor for a 3-yard loss to put the ball at around the 4-yard line. Davis thought the Colts should have kicked a field goal then to take a 13-7 lead. “This is uber aggressive,” said Davis of Reich’s decision to go for it. Reich will get criticized for it, but receiver Michael Pittman was open. Rivers missed him and the pass fell incomplete.
After Further Review: Several minutes later, after the Bills took a 14-10 lead before halftime, Davis went to Reich’s defense for believing in the Colts' defense. He noted Reich probably felt the Bills would have to go 96 yards for a touchdown if the Colts fourth down play failed. It did fail. In fairness to Reich, it took a history making 96-yard drive inside two minutes led by Allen to give the Bills a 14-10 halftime lead.
The Sounds of Silence: When Reich decided to punt on a fourth down and 5 yards to go at around the Bills’ 42 early in the game, Eagle didn’t ask Davis his opinion on the conservative choice.
Zero Chance of Being Called: Davis noted that Rivers “pressed the play clock” allowance throughout the game, repeatedly getting plays off a half second after the clock hit zero. Steratore said that is widely viewed as acceptable.
Cosmo Iacavazzi , Where Are You?: At one point, Davis compared the way the Bills used Allen as a runner to the single wing offense, which I’m sure led some younger Bills fans to wonder what he was talking about. They might google Iacavazzi, the Princeton single wing legend who may be the best-known Cosmo other than Kramer on “Seinfeld.”
Questionable Criticism: Davis also questioned Reich’s decision to go for two points when the Colts closed to within 24-16 before the play from the 1-yard line failed. The analyst didn’t see what the Colts would have gained and repeated his view Reich was being “uber aggressive.” If the two-point worked – it didn’t – it would have enabled the Colts to take a one-point lead with another touchdown and extra point. With the Bills defense tired, Reich’s decision seemed understandable. It failed, but the Colts’ next two-point play worked to cut the Bills lead to 27-24 so the first failure really didn’t cost them.
Allentown Residents Were Shaking Their Heads: Early in the game, Eagle said the area should carve out an area called Allentown because of the importance the quarterback has to the team and the community.
Time to Sleep: Noting that Cole Beasley wasn’t himself and was playing hurt, Davis cracked: “If the Bills win, he may sleep in the training room all week.” After a nightmarish ending was avoided, Bills fans undoubtedly will have an uber good week of sleep, too. After all, for the first time in a quarter of a century the words "playoff victory" will once again be in their vocabulary.