Perfection Pays And Plays

Imagine if it had actually been competitive.

New Orleans’ annihilation of New England on Monday Night Football didn’t leave many asking Who Dat Better team? But Sean Payton and Drew Brees marching all over Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the Superdome on Nov. 30 certainly played huge with the Nielsens.

Some 21.4 million tuned in NO’s 38-17 crushing of NE, to rank as the second most-watched telecast in cable history behind the Oct. 5 MNF match-up, featuring Brett Favre and his new friends in Minnesota playing host to his old crew from Green Bay, which drew some 21.8 million.

The Saints put this one in the win column late in the third quarter, when Brady’s pass to Rand Moss on 4th and 4 was broken up by Mike McKenzie with just over 4 minutes left in the period. Unlike the times when Tom Terrific played padded stat boy deep into contests that were already wrapped up by the Bully in the Hoodie, Belichick tossed in the white flag with under 6 minutes remaining, putting in Brian Hoyer to mop up the mess.

With the Saints and Colts — who mounted another fourth-quarter comeback, this time against the Houston Texans — both lifting their marks to 11-0, the question becomes what does the pursuit of perfection mean not only to the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but to NFL Network.

The league’s in-house service could be sitting on a pair of contests showcasing 13-0 teams squads within a couple of days in mid-month.

Should the Colts take care of business at Lucas Oil Stadium against Vince Young’s surging Tennessee Titans on Dec. 6 and the Denver Broncos the following week, Peyton’s posse would be looking to extend its NFL record to a 23rd straight regular-season triumph heading into the Dec. 17 game against the Jaguars in what figures to be a sold-out, local TV-blackout-avoiding Jacksonville Memorial Stadium.

On paper, the Saints’ quest appears somewhat easier, but they must get past a pair of roadies: FedEx Field against the offense-less 3-8 Washington Redskins at Fed Ex Field this Sunday and then the expected return of Matty Ice and the Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 13.

Put those two in the column and then it’s America’s Team invading the Superdome on Dec. 19. Even with a slip-up, Dallas-New Orleans should supplant the 10.1 million who watched the Cowboys-Packers on Nov. 29, 2007 as NFL Network’s most-watched telecast, but it could really blow up big if NO still has no losses.

Either case of the perfection chase, though, wouldn’t be a replica of New England’s undefeated run against the New York Giants on Dec. 29, 2007, as that game was for the full 16-0 undefeated enchilada. These contests are only for the 14-0 Po Boy.

Two years ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the days before Christmas reached out to Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt with holiday tidings calling for baseball-style arbitration as a means to facilitate carriage resolution before the Pats-G-men affair. After Britt balked, the NFL ultimately decided to air an historic tri-network simulcast of New England-New York on NFL Network, CBS and NBC. (The simulcast resulted in Dish punting NFL Network to a lower level of carriage, an attendant lawsuit and after a settlement, the channel still being offered to fewer of the No. 2 DBS player’s households today).

This season, NFL Network, whose subscriber base, via an upgrade on Comcast, is now at almost 55 million, has been much less strident in letting consumers and politicians know that it’s not available everywhere in the multichannel universe. However, just before the kickoff of its primetime slate this season on Nov. 12, NFL Network began upping the noise level via publicity and advertisements trumpeting that Time Warner remains the only one of the nation’s top 5 distributors not in its distribution huddle.

Should Indy and New Orleans both push to 13-0, one can only expect the league, at a minimum, to seriously raise the clamor in Time Warner Cable markets, particularly in Texas, pointing out that fans ain’t going to be able to see ‘Boys-Saints on NFL Network.