Phil Simms' coverage was somewhat in the dark

Phil Simms and guest host Dan Marino share Phil Simms and guest host Dan Marino share a laugh while taping "NFL Monday QB," the new quarterback roundtable show for CBS. (Oct. 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

No major analyst is as willing as Phil Simms to change his mind and/or admit mistakes, and never before has he been faced with such a situation at as important a time as Sunday night.

The good news is that Simms was willing to share his thought process with CBS' Super Bowl audience after a controversial no-call in the end zone ended the 49ers' final drive in a 34-31 loss to the Ravens.

The bad news is that Simms was all over the place -- and his final conclusion is likely to be mighty unpopular in Northern California.

"I have got to say, that's a good no-call," he said after the Ravens' Jimmy Smith put his hands on receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play.

Simms initially noted that the contact came within the permitted five yards, but Jim Nantz pointed out that it was more like seven yards past the line of scrimmage.

As the damning replays mounted, Simms said, "The more angles I see, the more confused I get."

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Still, in the end, he said that although he saw Smith with a handful of jersey, he thought Crabtree pushed off, too.

Nantz then smartly wondered whether the Ravens might take an intentional safety with a five-point lead. Simms disagreed with the idea, but Ravens coach John Harbaugh did it anyway. It worked.

The frantic finale rescued CBS from what looked like a dreary blowout as the Ravens charged to a 22-point lead. But things took a radical turn when the lights went out in half the Superdome early in the second half.

Not that anyone at the network welcomed having to vamp through a 35-minute delay without Nantz and Simms, who had been cut off along with the power.

But CBS got through it as best as could be expected, first with sideline reporters Steve Tasker and Solomon Wilcots taking over until James Brown and the studio crew could reassemble.

Fortunately for CBS, there was plenty to talk about as they killed time, thanks to Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

The analysts presciently spoke about how the delay was the best thing that could have happened to the 49ers -- a take that proved dead on as San Francisco stormed back after the lights came back on.

Later, CBS issued a statement that said after the power failure, it "lost numerous cameras and some audio powered by sources in the Superdome. We utilized CBS' backup power and at no time did we leave the air."

The network said all its commercial commitments were honored during the broadcast.

The electric shock came after a first half in which Nantz and Simms were their usual amiable, professional selves, highlighted by Nantz's excited calls of the Ravens' touchdowns -- especially the third and fourth, both by Jones.

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But for the most part it was a low-key, low-frills telecast in keeping with CBS' M.O., with little edge to most of what the announcers observed, whether explaining precisely how Joe Flacco was picking apart the 49ers or offering a strong opinion on the Ravens' failed fake field goal.

San Francisco defensive back Chris Culliver found himself in the middle of several important plays, but there was no mention of the controversy over his anti-gay remarks earlier in the week.

As usual, the weirdest TV shenanigans came during the many hours of pregame coverage.

For example, Esiason and Sharpe were assigned an awkward promotional stunt for Pizza Hut that required them to walk around New Orleans handing boxes of pizza to passersby who yelled "Hut, hut!" Oy.

Two highlights came in the final hour, first when Esiason expressed skepticism over Lewis' incomplete answers in an interview with former teammate Sharpe.

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Then, after Lewis was heard rallying teammates shortly before kickoff, Esiason veered from the Lewis-worship script again, saying, "If I'm the 49ers, I'm sick and tired of Ray Lewis. I'm sorry. This is not Ray Lewis' personal Super Bowl!"

It was a fair, barbed shot at the Baltimore icon. But in the end, the night did belong to Lewis and his friends.

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