When it comes to broadcasting sports, NBC’s Mike Tirico has always reminded me of a good home plate umpire. He does such a solid, workmanlike job that most of the time you hardly notice him.
That was the case again during Saturday’s Raiders-Bengals AFC wild-card playoff game.
Except for one play late in the first half.
You didn’t have to have the volume of the surround sound turned to “11” to hear the erroneous toot of an official’s whistle just before Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow stepped out of bounds while completing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd that gave the Bengals a 20-6 lead.
But Tirico didn’t mention it until the Raiders were well on their way to scoring a countering TD. Neither did his sidekick, prolific passer turned analyst Drew Brees.
Perhaps the shrill blast was muffled by their headphones. But somebody in the truck should have said something.
Terry McAulay, a former Super Bowl referee, finally chimed in with some insight about three first downs after fellow former zebra Gene Steratore would have set everybody straight.
He said it was not a reviewable play. But by rule, you cannot have a TD on a play like that — after the whistle blew with the ball still in the air causing multiple Raiders to slack off.
The down should have been replayed, McAulay said.
While some Raiders fans almost certainly will blame the 26-19 loss on the quick whistle, it’s hard to speculate what would have happened had the call been overturned.
Otherwise, Tirico and Brees were like Trent Dilfer with the Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens. They weren’t spectacular, but they managed the game well.
Brees made his most salient point before the game even started. He said Josh Jacobs needed to carry the ball 25 to 30 times, inferring another such performance would greatly enhance the Raiders’ chances of pulling off a small upset.
Given Jacobs the previous week had rushed 26 times for 132 yards in a 35-32 overtime victory over the Chargers that was vital to the Raiders punching their postseason ticket, it wasn’t exactly a reach. But when the Las Vegas workhorse carried only 13 times for 83 yards, the thought proved prophetic.
As far as predictable Las Vegas references, there was only one blatant one: a graphic that depicted several Raiders gathered around a craps table. More sublime: Hunter Renfrow making yet another drive-sustaining third-down reception, after which Tirico, referring to where Renfrow lines up, enthused “the Slot Machine pays off again.”
The only other attempt at frivolity came when sideline reporter Kathryn Tappen put the Bengals’ playoff futility in perspective by mentioning that 31 years ago when they last won a postseason game, cellphones didn’t exist and the hit TV show “Seinfeld” still was building a fan base.
She was so bundled up to ward off the cold that I’m guessing she probably didn’t hear the whistle on Burrow’s touchdown pass, either.