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Alan Pergament: In a weird game, CBS' James Lofton often made perfect sense for a change

Alan Pergament: In a weird game, CBS' James Lofton often made perfect sense for a change

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James Lofton was the best Buffalo Bill in Jacksonville Sunday.

That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write about the Hall of Fame receiver whose weird efforts to be entertaining as an NFL game analyst often have me shaking my head.

But surprisingly in the Bills’ weird 9-6 loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, Lofton’s weirdness wasn’t an issue at all.

As the late Johnny Carson used to ask, ”How weird was it?”

The game was so weird that the officials had to reverse penalties twice early in the game after originally calling them on players on the wrong team.

“What a confusing mess,” said play-by-play announcer Andrew Catalon of the officiating crew.

I’ve always thought some of Lofton’s comments are “a confusing mess” because he reaches too often to be entertaining at the expense of explaining what is happening on the field.

But Sunday he made more sense that he ever has. I agreed with Lofton’s takes more times in this game than I ever had on all the Bills games he has worked over the years.

Obviously, I don’t have to agree with analysts to enjoy their commentary. I give them credit for just having an opinion. Agreeing with them is just a bonus.

And I agreed with Lofton when he questioned Bills coach Sean McDermott’s decision to decline a 10-yard holding penalty that allowed the Jags to kick a 55-yard field goal that tied the game at 6-all in the first half. It ended up being the difference in the game, though who could blame McDermott for thinking the Bills could score in the second half.

To his credit, the coach acknowledged post-game that he wished he could have that decision back.

“That’s an interesting penalty to turn down,” said Lofton, noting the Jaguars also could have gone for it on fourth and five before deciding to kick the field goal.

I agreed with Lofton when he questioned Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer’s conservative decision to kick what turned out to be the game-winning field goal rather than try for a touchdown on a fourth down from the 3-yard line. After all, even if the fourth-down play failed, the Bills would have had the ball near their own end zone.

And I agreed with Lofton when he thought the Jaguars were offsides on a key fourth down when the Bills were instead called for a false start and had to punt late in the fourth quarter.

CBS’ cameras never showed a clear replay of that call and were late to show replays of other calls that Lofton thought were against players other than the ones who were identified.

The officiating didn’t cost the Bills the game, but their work was as embarrassing as the play of the Bills' offensive line.

Besides his opinions at key moments of the game, Lofton also did a good job describing how the Jaguars were defending the Bills offense.

He also had a few of what I refer to as "Lofton Moments."

He had me shaking my head when he referred to the Jaguars as playing a “Home Improvement” defense by “plastering” Bills receivers one-on-one.

He had me smiling when Meyer decided to challenge an obvious pass completion to Bills receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 2 minutes, 27 seconds left. Lofton was OK with it because “you can’t use them in the parking lot" and teams can't challenge plays in the last two minutes.

Lofton and Catalon also had an entertaining exchange about their golf games while Jacksonville kicker Matthew Wright missed three straight field goals with the game tied, 6-6.

“He can’t re-tee that one either, Lofton,” cracked Catalon after the third miss.

Catalon didn’t do anything Sunday that made me re-tee my opinion after the Bills-Miami telecast a week earlier; as far as I am concerned, he can call every Bills game.

As the team’s preseason play-by-play announcer, Catalon knows as much about the Bills as any announcer. That was apparent when he talked about nickel back Siran Neal’s versatility after he was called upon to replace the injured Taron Johnson.

Catalon was uncharacteristically late seeing Allen’s key fumble when it was visible on the TV screen, but that happens.

His excitement level during a game without a touchdown was exceptional even if Bills fans didn’t always want to hear it.

His calls on the big plays by Jags linebacker Josh Allen on the Bills quarterback of the same name were especially top-notch and comical at one point.

“This is getting confusing,” said Catalon after an Allen play on Allen.

And Catalon deserves credit for his objectivity in highlighting the Jags’ win over a Bills team that was a 15.5 point favorite.

“What a day for the Jags’ Josh Allen,” Catalon said after his recovery of a fumble by the Bills quarterback.

“A stunner in Jacksonville,” exclaimed Catalon after the game ended. “Who would have saw that one coming?”

Certainly not Bills fans. The Bills will now need to do some home improvements of their own as they prepare to face another team they are supposed to beat, the New York Jets.

Catalon tried to get some perspective from Lofton, who played in three of the Bills Super Bowls in the 1990s.

After Catalon noted the Bills were considered “the hunted” after having a great 2020 season, he asked Lofton what advice Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy had during the Bills Super Bowl years. “It wasn’t addressed that much,” said Lofton.

After a Bills loss to a team that had lost 21 of its last 22 games, I wished Catalon had asked Lofton to put into perspective where it stood in the history of the team’s worst performances. (Buffalo News sportswriter Mark Gaughan called it the worst regular season loss by a good Bills team in franchise history.)

There wasn’t time for Catalon and Lofton to address it on air. Perhaps they'll discuss it on the golf course.

Now on to more highs and lows of the day:

Cue Billy Joel’s “Pressure": After Jags linebacker Josh Allen intercepted the Bills’ Josh Allen, who was under severe pressure, Lofton noted even veteran quarterbacks with “pressure in your face will make a mistake at some point.”

A Shoutout to the Golden Griffins: I said it was a weird telecast. After Jags tight end Chris Manhertz caught a Trevor Lawrence pass, Catalon told his story of being a converted Canisius College basketball player who got his first chance at playing in the NFL from the Bills. Then CBS showed highlights of Manhertz’s tough play as a Golden Griffin. He was a terrific rebounder.

Sorry, Wrong Number: Who didn’t laugh early in the game when the referee called a penalty on No. 10 of the Bills? That’s the number of backup quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who wasn’t even dressed because he was on the reserve Covid-19 protocol list. The penalty was against No. 10 of the Jaguars. The numbers issue happened again when an unnecessary roughness penalty was called against Bills lineman Daryl Williams (No. 75) when a replay showed it should have been against Dion Dawkins (No. 73).

Star Light: Lofton noted that Bills defensive linemate Star Lotulelei told him everybody liked his comment on the Miami telecast about his losing so much weight and that it has made him quicker than he used to be.

Scouting Report: After a Jaguar was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty early in the game against Bills cornerback Tre’ Davious White and White got one soon after, Lofton said there might have been something in the Jags scouting report that suggested they could get White to swing at them and get him tossed from the game. Catalon thought White and the Jag player in question should have had offsetting penalties when only White was penalized, something the replay also indicated.

A Third Eye: Lofton said Allen had one after a play in which the quarterback was able to complete a quick pass under pressure. If Allen has one, he undoubtedly was using it to see Jags in his sleep Sunday night.

Audible: When Catalon heard Allen shout “Shaquille O’Neal” as an audible, Lofton cracked of the retired 7-foot NBA star center, “That’s going to be a big one.”

Challenging Remark: Catalon and Lofton thought McDermott should have challenged what was ruled as an incompletion to Sanders. But the coach declined even after a long commercial enabled the team to get a better look at it. He apparently was saving his challenges for the parking lot. He never used one.

Hyde on Hyde: Besides two Josh Allens in the game, there were too Hydes, with Catalon noting it was “Hyde on Hyde” after Bills safety Micah Hyde tackled Jags running back Carlos Hyde.

The Weird Jinx: I don’t believe in the Manning Cast jinx. But this game made more believers because the Bills loss after Allen appeared was another example of a player who appeared with Peyton and Eli on the ESPN 2 alternative “Monday Night Football” broadcast losing his next game. After the Bills lost to one of the worst teams in the league, the Mannings might have a tougher time getting superstitious guests on with them.

Best Line, Worst Result: On CBS’ pregame show, Nate Burleson looked at the Bills quarterback’s performance in road games and cracked, “my dude is more comfortable on the road than a NASCAR driver.” Allen looked uncomfortable all day, primarily because his offensive line was being rushed into nearby Daytona 95 miles away.

No Survivors: Catalon didn’t go near the gambling impact of the game, but he did note that a lot of people in survivor pools were “watching intently.”

Say What: After the Bills offensive woes in the first half, studio analyst Phil Simms said: “I think they’ve sputtered basically all year long.” The comment seemed to be in weird Lofton territory since the Bills led the league in scoring going into Sunday’s game. But they certainly sputtered against the Jags. That comment should be plastered all over the Bills locker room this week.

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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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