Saddled by one of the least competitive games in NFL history, Thursday Night Football shed nearly 9 million viewers during its second week under the CBS/NFL Network game plan.
The Atlanta Falcons’ 56-14 dismantling of Lovey Smith’s woeful Tampa Bay Bucs drew 11.9 million watchers on Sept. 18, according to Nielsen data. With the blowout – Tampa’s two fourth-quarter tallies ended the scoring – the second TNF simulcast declined 43% from the 20.8 million who tuned in the Baltimore-Pittsburgh opener on Sept. 11. The total included 2.35 million who watched on NFL Network.
Nevertheless, TNF easily won TV’s night, as the broadcasters – save for NBC’s two-hour presentation of The Biggest Loser -- remain in repeat mode ahead of the officials start of the TV season next week.
Moreover, Atlanta-Tampa -- highlighed by Devon Hester's punt TD (pictured) that set the all-time NFL mark for return scores -- registered the second-largest TNF audience behind Baltimore-Pittsburgh and ahead of the 11.1 million for Kansas City-Philadelphia on Sept. 19, 2013 (excluding NBC's Thanksgiving night specials). Until the two games this season, Chiefs-Eagles ranked as NFL Network's largest telecast, including audience contributions from local stations in the participating teams' DMAs.
Kicking off at 7:26 p.m. (ET), an hour before the pro game, ESPN's coverage of the much more competitive contest between fifth-ranked Auburn and 20th-rated Kansas State -- the Tigers topped the Wildcats, 20-14 -- drew 3.85 million watchers to lead the way in cable on Thursday.