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CBS' Harlan recovers, tries his best to make Bills game exciting

CBS' Harlan recovers, tries his best to make Bills game exciting

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At some point near the end of the first half of the Buffalo Bills' 9-3 loss to Carolina Sunday, CBS analyst Rich Gannon said "what a difference a week makes."

He was referring to the performance of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who had a much stronger first half against the Bills than he had in Carolina's season opening victory over San Francisco.

The cliché also could be applied to CBS' play-by-play Kevin Harlan, Gannon's on-air partner.

After a sub-par season opening performance in the Bills victory over the New York Jets, Harlan improved and had the kind of game expected of him.

His enthusiasm level was great. And that couldn't have been easy since there wasn't one touchdown scored in the game. He even managed to make the field goal by the Bills' Stephen Hauschka that ricocheted off the goal post exciting. Well, he tried anyway. Without any touchdowns, he was most excited on sacks.

Harlan was on the top of his game before halftime when he summarized the Panthers dominance despite only holding a 6-0 lead.

It was a valiant effort to make the game exciting. Harlan also smartly asked Gannon the right questions to get insights.

I'm not sure John Madden or Rick Jeanneret could have done more to make the game entertaining.

Harlan also kept his identification mistakes to a minimum, though one Twitter follower noted he had Alabama No. 1 in college basketball rather than football when he read a promo.  So he had basketball on his mind. So do I  when I am watching football games this bad.

Gannon also was much sharper than he was in the opener, especially when he described the Double A gap defense the Bills were using to confuse the Panthers. He continues to be strong on replays – and seeing things before the replays are even shown.

He also was much more critical than usual when criticism was warranted. He took a shot at Newton for missing open receivers, questioned the effort of Bills tackle Jordan Mills on one sack and said Bills Coach Sean McDermott made a young coach's mistake in mishandling the clock in the final seconds of the game.

The biggest disappointment on Sunday's coverage was the camera work. It would have been nice to have seen the play in which the side judge was injured since it cost the Bills a 15-yard penalty. There was no replay. Gannon also said that teams are generally given warnings if players are too close to the sideline. Viewers couldn't know if the Bills had received one.

If there was one big criticism of Harlan, it was his post-game comment after Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor's fourth-down pass to Zay Jones at the Panther 1-yard fell incomplete to assure the Bills had lost.

"This is almost like a win in some regards to play a good team this tough," concluded Harlan.

Sorry, there are no "almost like a wins" in the NFL:

Now on to some more highs and lows of the game coverage:

How Quickly They Forget Rex: Noting that McDermott wasted several seconds in the final minute when he declined to call a timeout, Gannon said "That was a mistake by a young coach." He earlier criticized McDermott for calling a timeout on a Panther third-down play at the Bills 2-yard line that cost the Bills about 18 seconds before the 2-minute warning. A wise Twitter follower wondered if that timeout was taken late to look at the Panthers plans for the play. If so, it didn't help. The Panthers' Christian McCaffrey was open for a touchdown on the ensuing play, but Newton overthrew him. Those with short memories cracked on Twitter that former Bills Coach Rex Ryan, now an NFL analyst, was better at game management.

Don't Look Back: After Newton missed McCaffrey, Gannon said: "This is an easy throw for Cam Newton. If they lose this game, he is going to go back to this play."

Zay What: Gannon sort of defended Zay Jones on both the last drop and an earlier one in which a tackler was lining up to decapitate him. "That was a tough position for receiver to be in," said Gannon of the first drop. Of the final drop, Harlan said it would have been a "marvelous catch." Gannon said: "Taylor found the open man but he just needed to make a little bit more accurate throw." He added: "It was a very difficult adjustment for a receiver running full speed toward the boundary."

Line of the Day: With Bills struggling so badly on offense, Gannon advised offensive co-cordinator Rick Dennison "you can't think of plays, but think of players." He suggested the final play be for either tight end Charles Clay or receiver Andre Holmes before it went to Jones. Many Bills may have been thinking it would have gone to Sammy Watkins if he were still around. But that's another story. Gannon advised Dennison much earlier to open up the offense. But it didn't happen until desperation time.

Bills Runner of the Day: With LeSean McCoy bottled up, it had to be Sean McDermott, who had open field when he ran to the official to call a first half timeout.

Makeup Calls: Last week, Harlan noted that the Bills' Marcell Dareus didn't make a tackle against the Jets. This week,  he praised his work plugging up the middle in that game. Gannon credited Dareus for helping out the defense on a third-down play against Carolina when he didn't appear to be on the field because of an injury. It took CBS a long time to note the absences of Dareus (who came back) and Cordy Glenn, but that is often the case on network broadcasts.

Kyle Williams Love: Gannon didn't even wait for the game to start before praising Bills tackle Kyle Williams. Usually, announcers wait until he makes a play. I was glad that was out of the way. During the game, the announcers noted that McDermott thinks about Kyle when he makes decisions. Now that's coaching love.

They Didn't Get to "Shout!" Much: All the Bills fans who traveled to Carolina or who live there couldn't be heard until the fourth quarter when the Bills offense came to life. Well, if you call three points as coming to life. CBS did get a good shot of a Bills fan's frustration after the Jones drop.


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