West has become best viewing for NBC’s ‘Sunday Night Football’
Not so long ago, it seemed as if the only significant time NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” spent on the West Coast was to shoot the theme song on a Los Angeles soundstage.
But there’s been a seismic shift for TV’s No. 1 prime-time show, which continues Sunday with the Rams playing at San Francisco.
A record six of the network’s first eight games this season will have been played in the Pacific time zone, and there’s a seventh such matchup — Kansas City at Las Vegas — in Week 11.
The previous high for the West was five Sunday night games (2019 and 2014), but there were also two years when there was just one such game (2015 and 2011).
So far, the West is holding up its end of the bargain. The Rams cut the ribbon on SoFi Stadium with a Sunday night game against Dallas in Week 1. Both games in Seattle have come down to the last second, with the Seahawks pulling off breathtaking victories over New England and Minnesota.
“The NFC West, to me, is the best division in football,” said Fred Gaudelli, who produces the show that has been the No. 1 program in prime time for nine years running.
For Alex Smith’s father, Doug, it was emotional and inspiring to see his son play quarterback Sunday for the first time since his gruesome leg injury.
“It’s really competitive. You’ve got exciting players, young coaches — and then the oldest coach [Seattle’s Pete Carroll], so there’s a lot of great stories out here.”
In all, NBC has seven Sunday night games this season in the West: two games each in Seattle, San Francisco and Las Vegas as well as one in Los Angeles.
Perhaps happiest about that is NBC play-by-play announcer Al Michaels, who lives in Brentwood. He started calling “Monday Night Football” games in 1986 yet had never called a game in L.A. until the Rams played host to Atlanta in the 2017 season’s playoffs.
“I’m overstating this,” Michaels said, “but in my 34 prior years, it feels like I had seven total games in the West.”
With their victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1979, the season when they wound up beating the Rams in Super Bowl XIV.
Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool scored four touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing) against the Eagles. The last time a rookie receiver scored four touchdowns in a game was that same year, 1979, when Buffalo’s Jerry Butler reeled in four touchdown passes against the New York Jets. Interestingly, those were Butler’s only touchdowns of that season, even though he caught passes in 13 games.
Doing the leg work
At times toward the end of his career with the Rams, running back Todd Gurley looked like a ground-down shell of himself. But he looked plenty solid for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, running for 121 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown, in a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The NFL was looking to move the minimum amount of games to accommodate the postponement of Broncos-Patriots. The solution was to essentially redraw the Chargers’ schedule.
It was Gurley’s fifth touchdown this season and his 75th career touchdown, and he got there in 78 games. Only three backs reached that milestone in fewer games, and all are in the Hall of Fame: Jim Brown (72 games), LaDainian Tomlinson (72) and Emmitt Smith (77).
Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray ran for a touchdown in Sunday’s victory over the Jets, giving him five rushing touchdowns for the season. He’s the fourth quarterback since 1970 with at least five rushing touchdowns in his team’s first five games, joining Cam Newton, Kordell Stewart and Terry Bradshaw.
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