As suspense built this week regarding whether Patriots quarterback Mac Jones would suit up Sunday, a week after suffering an obviously painful high ankle sprain late in a loss to the Ravens, Boomer Esiason felt a rush of familiarity.
Twenty-eight years ago, Esiason — a longtime studio analyst for CBS’s “NFL Today” and a weekly guest on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” — suffered a similar injury, and his own experience informs his advice for Jones: Hurrying back and trying to play through it is a bad idea.
“I had an ankle injury very similar to this and I missed one game, came back, and it wasn’t right for the rest of the season,’’ said Esiason. “I was with the Jets when it happened to me. Pete Carroll was my coach, so it was 1994. I got hurt on a [Sunday] night game against the Bears. Alonzo Spellman twisted my ankle in the bottom of a pile. I missed the next game against the Browns, which we lost.
“The next week [against the Colts], Pete said, ‘You’ve gotta be dressed. You’ve gotta dress. The guys have got to know that you’re going to be there with them.’ I said, ‘I can’t even move.’ They actually put my right ankle in a cast and I got dressed for the game.
“Well, our quarterback [Jack Trudeau] threw an interception at the beginning of that game, and Pete looked at me and said, ‘You’re in.’ I said, ‘What?’ The game was [6-6] at halftime. We ended up winning, 16-6. It was a mess. I had the mobility of a mummy. So that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t want to make bad decisions or feel pressured to get back in there.”
Esiason said that if he were advising Jones, he would tell him not to come back until the injury is fully healed.
“Do not come back if that ankle is not right,’’ said Esiason. “All it is going to do is basically lead to people criticizing you because you’re not going to be the player you should be when you’re compromised by that injury. You’re not going to have the movement and the ability to move. I would just be really careful with it, and I would hope the Patriots would be really careful with it.”
Though Jones has struggled at times in his second season, throwing five interceptions to two touchdowns through the first three games, Esiason remains a steadfast believer in the young quarterback.
“In the middle of the game last week against Baltimore, I thought he was playing his best game as a pro,’’ said Esiason, who is in his 20th season on “NFL Today.” “I saw decisive throws. I saw great throws. I saw arm strength. I saw him take off with the football. I knew he was a good athlete, and Phil Simms is sitting next to me there on ‘NFL Today’ saying, ‘I keep telling you guys. He’s a much better athlete than people think.’ That’s not his game, his game is not the run, but he can run.
“There were a couple of bad decisions that he made, but the fact of the matter is I thought he looked more in command than I’d seen him at all coming into the season. I thought this was his best game except for those three picks. But now, with this ankle injury, who knows how the rest of this season is going to go?”
Ratings a little deceiving
The Patriots’ 37-26 loss to the Ravens last Sunday drew a 23.3 rating and a 63 share in the 1 p.m. window in the Boston market. That follows a 23.9/62 for the opening loss to the Dolphins and a 22.5/61 for the Week 2 win over the Steelers, with both games airing locally on Ch. 4.
The Patriots averaged a 31.5 rating last season, so the easy conclusion to draw is that interest, and thus ratings, are down because the Patriots are less compelling than usual. There’s some truth to that, but it also must be noted that the share — the percentage of in-use televisions in a market that are tuned in to a program — has remained in the range of previous seasons.
So why have ratings — the measure of total televisions in a market turned to a program — dropped? One significant reason: Nielsen, the company that measures such matters, began including broadband-only homes into its local measurement services in January. While broadband-only users can watch linear television through YouTube TV, Hulu, and so on, studies have shown that they watch less linear TV than cable and satellite subscribers and over-the-air homes.
The clearest explanation I’ve heard of the potential ratings fallout from that comes via David Gustafson, Cox Media’s director of linear and audience research, who explains it this way on the service’s website:
“As a result [of broadband-only homes watching less linear television], the potential increase in the number of viewers is not expected to be as significant as the population increase in most markets,’’ writes Gustafson. “The larger TV universe means that each [in-market] rating point will represent more viewers — but the same 10,000 viewers you had yesterday before [broadband-only] will translate to a lower DMA rating tomorrow after BBO homes are included. That creates a real risk if we focus only on ratings and percentages because it can lead to the misperception of declining viewership, without regard for the impact of the population increase.”
In other words, the share remains roughly the same, because televisions that are actually in use are tuned to Patriots games at a similar rate. But with broadband-only included, ratings are affected because there are more homes to measure in the Boston market, but those broadband-only homes added to the pie are considerably less likely to watch a football game airing on conventional television.
So, yes, the Patriots’ ratings likely have been affected to a degree by the team’s performance. But the Nielsen changes are doing them no favors, and those who are actually watching television on Sunday afternoon are watching the game just about as often as they ever did, even if it’s not quite as fulfilling.