If this had been opera, the fat guy in the zipped sweater vest and the long white sleeves surely would have sung.
The big game on ESPN’s Monday Night Football slate, the much-hyped battle between a pair of teams battling for AFC East supremacy, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, turned out to be far worse than a case of SOJ (Same Old Jets).
Rotund Rex Ryan’s Gang Green was Hard Knocked at every turn by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in Foxborough on Dec. 6. Ironically on the day it celebrated his passing on air, ESPN could have certainly made use of Dandy Don Meredith’s rendition of Willie Nelson’s Turn Out The Lights, about five minutes into the second half, when LB Brandon Spikes made his red zone pick, the first of three turnovers suffered by Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
With New England up 17-0 after one and 24-3 at halftime, the 45-3 shellacking no doubt intercepted any late viewer arrivals and made for a slew of early Nielsen defectors to what figured to be at or near the top of ESPN’s MNF telecasts this season. Granted, 16.5 million viewers are nothing to sneeze at, as Pats-Jets ranks as the fourth most-watched cablecast of the 2010-11 TV season thus far, fifth on cable for Nielsen’s 2010 calendar year and 10th all-time in cable from a household perspective.
Still, with DMAs No. 1 and No. 7, the teams’ 9-2 marks, 10 days of relentless hype — both the Pats and Jets won on Thanksgiving — their disdain for one another and putative rivalry, plus the ties between the franchises (Belichick resigned as HC of the NYJ before ever taking the job), the Nielsen roster figured to have many more entries on Dec. 6.
For those keeping score at home, ESPN, with just three contests to go, is essentially even with its record MNF marks from last season of an 8.9 national rating, a 10.4 cable mark, 10.4 million households and almost 14.4 million viewers (audience and ratings are off 1%.)
The Dec. 13 MNF matchup of Nielsen DMA No. 26 Baltimore and the 5-7 Houston Texans doesn’t carry the mass appeal to match, much less help push past, those standards.
However, ESPN could benefit from (what finally?) figures to be the last national telecast of Brett Favre’s career (his shoulder injury and the fury of the New York Giants pass rush this Sunday could conspire against consecutive start No. 299) versus the popular, playoff-contending, big market Chicago Bears on Dec. 20. (Last season’s MNF matchup drew 17 million viewers, then the franchise’s fifth-best performance on ESPN.)
And depending on how things shake out in the standings over the next couple of weeks, ESPN may also be sitting on a battle for NFC supremacy between the Who Dat? nation of the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons with its Dec. 27 MNF season finale.