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Alan Pergament: CBS' Nantz, Romo make '23 Seconds' game extra special for anxious Bills fans

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It was likely the first time this season that a Buffalo Bills fan heard “13 seconds” referenced without getting a pit in their stomach.

But in a tight Thanksgiving Day game in which many anxious Bills fans undoubtedly had uneasy stomachs for more than three hours, CBS analyst Tony Romo brought up the memories of the Bills’ overtime playoff loss to Kansas City after leading with 13 seconds left in regulation.

“He can do this,” said Romo, with 23 seconds left in a tie game. “Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes have shown us anything over 13 seconds and you have time to do anything late in the game. It is almost like unbelievable. Now I’m almost changing the way I think. Now can Josh Allen get a big play on first down?”

Did he ever.

Allen launched a 36-yard completion to receiver Stefon Diggs among three defenders to set up Tyler Bass’ winning 45-yard field goal in a 28-25 Bills victory in a game that Romo said had “a playoff atmosphere.”

Call it the “23 Seconds” game.

“Oh my goodness, how did he get it there?” exclaimed play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz.

“Only four or five guys – ever – that ball gets there,” said Romo. (He doesn’t always speak in perfect sentences.)

“That is some throw,” added Nantz.

In the postgame show, studio analyst Phil Simms called the throw “insane.”

Two short Allen runs and Bass’ field goal just inside the left goal post gave the Bills the victory in a game that lived up to Romo’s pregame prediction.

“This is going to be better than people think,” said Romo. Throughout the game, he was telling viewers, “The Lions are for real.”

A Bills game always seems special when it is called by Nantz and Romo, CBS’ No. 1 team. They called the “13 Seconds” playoff game, making the “23 Seconds” sequel extra special.

The duo was sharp throughout the game.

OK, except for one Romo moment early in the game that was as strange as some of the decisions by Detroit coach Dan Campbell.

Romo’s early comment that Bills cornerback Dane Jackson was “a budding superstar” made people wonder if he had watched any film of him getting roasted in recent games. Romo later conceded that Jackson had a tough go in the last two games but still thought Jackson will become a star.

However, for the most part Romo illustrated why he has become a TV star as he questioned some of Detroit’s play-calling in key parts of the game that arguably led to the Lions loss.

His criticism was gentle, perhaps because Campbell used to be his Dallas Cowboy teammate. But Romo made it clear he was baffled by the decision to have Lions quarterback Jared Goff go five yards deep in his own end zone on a third and 15 play with two reserve guards in the lineup. It resulted in an Ed Oliver sack for a safety that impacted the strategy of both teams late in the game.

“Should we do that or call a screen?” said Romo of the play call. It seemed like a rhetorical question.

He also wasn’t on board with a long Lions pass on a 3rd and 1 call with 32 seconds left in the game on the Bills’ 34-yard line.

“I can’t believe that right there,” said Romo. “To do that on a third down and 1. Do you really want to take a shot or get the first down and score on the next one?”

Another rhetorical question.

Then Campbell chose to kick the field goal to give the Lions a 25-25 tie rather than go for it on fourth and 1 when they had done that a few times successfully before.

That gave Allen 23 seconds to get into the range for Bass’ winning field goal.

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Like just about everyone in Western New York, Nantz wasn’t initially sure the kick was good.

He and Romo seemed seem pretty sure that Allen is playing more hurt than he has admitted. Romo referenced Allen was injured several times when he missed some throws he normally makes. Romo said some of the shorter throws “were a shock to the system” for Allen.

“Josh is banged up, I’m telling you,” said Romo in the fourth quarter.

The announcers meet regularly with Allen before they work Bills games, and the quarterback has a good relationship with Nantz. He has played golf with Nantz in California.

So, it wouldn’t be surprising if Allen was more candid about the injury with CBS’ No. 1 team than he has been with anyone else. It is the kind of thing that often doesn’t get revealed until after the season is over.

Now on to more highs and lows of the broadcast:

The Turkey Leg Winner: Romo noted that Nantz told him Wednesday night that Bills defensive lineman Ed Oliver might be the MVP of the game. Nantz gave a lot of deserved love to Oliver and not just because he played collegiately at Houston, the announcer’s alma mater. Oliver was all over the field. “He is the kind of guy John Madden just absolutely loved,” said Nantz of the legendary announcer who was honored on all Thanksgiving broadcasts. “Give that Turkey Leg Award… This would have been his guy.”

“Choose Love”: "The NFL Today” did a poignant pregame story on the pain in the community after the Tops shooting on 5/14 and the Bills impact on the recovery.

He Was Half Right: In his pregame piece, Allen’s basement buddy Kyle Brandt’s Thanksgiving piece praised the Bills for “conquering the white stuff and the red zone.” Unfortunately, one of Allen’s red zone passes was tipped and intercepted, adding to what Nantz called an “astonishing” number of turnovers there. The announcer knows the Bills well, as illustrated by noting star linebacker Matt Milano “of all people, who is as sure as they get" making tackles, missing one on the Lions' game-tying field goal drive. 

Clock Management: Romo questioned Campbell’s clock management at the end of the first half, but let Bills coach Sean McDermott off the hook for keeping one timeout in a drive that ended with a fourth down field goal to give the Bills a 17-14 halftime lead.

The Nantz Jinx: The announcer said he didn’t want to jinx Lions kicker Michael Badgley by mentioning he hadn’t missed a kick all year. Nantz likely felt it was safe to mention his perfect record when the kicker lined up for a routine 29-yarder. But the kick missed, prompting an amused Romo to say: “I apologize to Lions fans.” Bills fans shouldn’t hold Nantz responsible for Bass’ missed extra point with the Bills leading 25-22. As I tweeted, in a bizarre way the missed kick might have won the game because it meant the Lions played for the tie rather than the win and saved enough time for Allen’s heroics.

Sideline Report: It took a while for sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson to mention Bills tackle Dion Dawkins was out with an injury. Cornerback Tre’Davious White’s absence after a couple of series wasn’t explained until McDermott’s postgame remarks when he said White was on a snap count. To her credit, Wolfson managed the impossible, getting a visibly frustrated McDermott to say during an interview before the second quarter that “we’re not executing the defense.” He also said he wanted Allen to slide more on runs to protect himself.

Paging Marv Levy: CBS ran an old sound bite from Madden. “There’s no place I’d rather be on Thanksgiving than right here, right now,” said Madden. I think I’ve heard that a few times before. It made you wonder who used that expression first.

The Great Escape: A CBS graphic with the title “Escaping From Western New York” showed all the traveling the Bills had to do in the last week because of the historic snowstorm. Romo gave the Bills some excuses. He noted that all the travel and stress from the storm took something out of the Bills, who after all are only human. Nantz later put the traveling in some perspective by noting Buffalo to Detroit is about a 30-minute flight.

A Community Team: Referencing the help Bills fans gave players to get to the Cleveland game in Detroit, Nantz said: “My god, what an epic snowstorm that was. It is their team. It is a community team.”

Graphic Explanation: After a graphic noted all the touchdowns Allen had scored throwing, running and receiving, Nantz summarized: “Yes, he can do it all.”

The Composure: After Nantz noted Allen’s “composure” led to a “nonchalant” touchdown run after fumbling a bad snap in the red zone, Romo said the snap actually helped leave the running lane open.

The Scary Injury: After linebacker Von Miller was shaken up, Romo spoke for all nervous Bills fans: “This is big… This is a major loss.” Replied Nantz: “You’re not just talking about today.” In an interview with Wolfson before the second half, Campbell was classy. "It certainly helps us. I wish him the best."

Paging Jerry Rice: In the postgame show, studio analyst Nate Burleson said Diggs “is the closest thing to Jerry Rice in this era.”

No to Cinderella: At one point, Romo said the Lions were saying no to the idea the Bills were going to run away with the game. “The Cinderella story is continuing,” he said. It slipped away with Campbell’s poor decisions.

Unnecessary Scare: Romo seemed excited when Bills returner Nyheim Hines fumbled a kickoff before it went into the end zone. “He touched it,” said Romo. Nantz alleviated concern the Bills would get the ball deep in their own territory. “He can still take a knee,” said Nantz. He did, giving the Bills the ball at their own 25-yard line.

Standard Met: In the fourth quarter, Nantz noted that Diggs had a quiet game by “his standards.” “That’s more about the quarterback,” replied Romo. Soon, Allen and Diggs were combining on the “insane” play. It also was more about the quarterback, though Diggs ran a great route with three Lions surrounding him. Romo did make the point that receiver Isaiah McKenzie was able to have a big game because the Lions often doubled Diggs.

Where's Oliver?: Wolfson noted late in the game that you could sense Allen was frustrated and Diggs was telling him to clear his head. “It is real flat on the Bills sideline,” she said. It wasn’t long before she was interviewing Allen, Diggs and Bass as they were eating the celebration turkey. Surprisingly, she didn’t ask Allen or Diggs about the insane throw. More surprising, John Madden’s likely choice – Ed Oliver – was forgotten. Another surprise: In the locker room clip posted by the Bills, McDermott gave Allen, Diggs and Bass game balls but not Oliver.

The Ferocious Look: After the Bills victory was assured, Allen gave a fierce look. It reminded me of the look of the Buffalo Sabres’ goathead jersey. It has already gone viral.

The Hug: One of Twitter’s finest moments was showing the extended embrace between Allen and Diggs after Bass’ winning kick set to music from “My Heart Will Go On” from the movie “Titanic.” The hearts of Bills fans undoubtedly were full. If the Bills had lost to the Cinderella Lions, there probably would have been a more stomach-turning Titanic reference.

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TV Critic

Alan Pergament has had a variety of roles at The News since 1970, including as a news and sports reporter. He has been the TV columnist since 1982, with more than year off for good behavior. He is a member of the national Television Critics Association.

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