Although it dominated the night on television, ESPN's opening Monday Night Football doubleheader fell short of last year's starting pair.
ESPN's coverage of the New England's 38-24 throttling of Miami -- during which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for a MNF-record 517 yards and four touchdowns, including a pair to Wes Walker -- averaged a 10.6 rating, nearly 10.5 million households and 14.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. The game ranks as the fourth-most-watched cable telecast thus far in 2011.
Still, the audience was down 2% from the 14.97 million who watched Baltimore defeat the New York Jets in the first game of the 2010 MNF doubleheader, which stands as the net's best-ever, opening-night performance with the Nielsens.
The Sept. 12 nightcap, which saw the Oakland Raiders edge the Denver Broncos 23-20, tackled an 8.2 rating, 8.1 million households and 11.1 million watchers, down 7% from the 11.9 million for the second contest last season, when the Kansas City Chiefs topped the other member of the AFC West, the San Diego Chargers, by a 21-14 count.
With those performances, ESPN won the night among all networks -- broadcast or cable -- among households, viewers and all key male and adult demos.
Together, ESPN's games averaged a 9.5 household rating, 9.4 million households, and 12.9 million viewers, off 5% from last season's twinbill, which scored with 13.6 million. The 2010 pair was ESPN's top opening night since gaining the rights to the franchise in 2006.
ESPN's coverage of the BCS National Championship Game (Auburn-Oregon, Jan. 10) -- the most-viewed program in cable television history with an average of 17.7 million homes (27.3 million viewers) -- ranks as the most-viewed program of the calendar year, followed by the 2011 Rose Bowl (20.6 million viewers for TCU-Wisconsin on Jan. 1) and the 2010 MNF New Orleand Saints-Atlanta Falcons season finale (19.1 million viewers on Dec. 27, 2010).
In Boston, the opening game delivered a 10.0 rating on ESPN and a 24.0 on WCVB/WMUR-ABC, for a combined 34.0 rating in the market. In Miami, it earned a 14.8 rating on ESPN and a 7.0 on WSFL-CW, for a combined 21.8 rating.
In San Francisco/Oakland, the nightcap delivered an 8.7 rating on ESPN and a 9.3 on KPIX-CBS, for an 18.0 in the DMA, while in Denver it delivered a 15.8 rating on ESPN and a 21.1 on KTVD-MY, melding for a 36.9 rating in the market.