It was familiar, and it wasn't.
Such an observation might seem contradictory, but the sentiment applies to the Patriots' return to the football field last night.
The uniforms were the same, and so were many of the names (though Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were among the healthy scratches). But the subpar quarterback play by Brady stand-in Ryan Mallett during a scoreless first half did not jibe with what we're used to seeing from the Patriots.
That same sentiment applies to Channel 4's broadcast. The cast was the same as last year, with Dan Roche and Christian Fauria in the booth, Matt Chatham on the sidelines, Steve Burton charged with halftime responsibilities, and Patriots Football Weekly reporters Paul Perillo and Andy Hart occasionally chiming in from a separate studio.
But it felt more familiar and standard than it did a season ago, when the Patriots and Kraft Sports Productions took an unusual approach to adding some flavor to preseason broadcasts.
Rather than relying on conventional play-by-play throughout the broadcast, they instead emphasized the conversational, especially deeper into the game. Matt Smith, Kraft Sports' executive producer, described it then as sports-radio without an agenda.
Last night . . . well, it felt like a standard NFL broadcast for the most part, though the conversational aspect was more prominent in the second half.
Roche directs traffic deftly, and his energy and authentic enthusiasm make up for his lack of conventional polish as a football announcer. He's not vintage Don Criqui in voice, but he knows the roster. And he finds creative ways to share fundamental information, such as when he noted Mallett "has thrown four passes in three seasons, and that's a good thing if you're a Patriots fan."
Fauria, who as a host on WEEI's "Middays With MFB" program can be exasperating when he falls into the habit of sharing a thought before it is fully formed, doesn't meander nearly as much as a color analyst. He bantered effortlessly with the articulate Chatham, and often, Fauria was funny and incisive.
When Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner was called for illegal contact on Redskins receiver Aldrick Robinson in the first quarter, Fauria pounced, quickly noting that stifling physical play in pass coverage is a point of emphasis with officials this season.
"As insignificant as that [contact] looks to those of us watching TV," said Fauria, "they're going to call that and they're going to call that a lot."
His candor regarding Mallett, so inconsistent after drawing raves in camp, was appreciated:
"[He] drives you a little bit crazy, quite honestly, after you see how he can play."
Then again, perhaps Fauria's expectations for Mallett weren't so high in the first place.
After a screen-pass on a third and 17 came up well short of a first down, Fauria offered this faint praise: "[It's a] positive that he was able to get in and out of the huddle."
In the driver’s seat
It's by design that the monthly Nielsen Audio reports on the Boston radio market don't get much attention in this space. They're a small sample, generally revealing little in the way of context or trends.
The three-month seasonal rating periods, which are always reported on here, aren't perfect, either. But they are more telling in that they are a broader sample and lend less weight to, say, a week in which hosts on one show or another were on vacation.
Sometimes, though, something happens in a monthly that is wholly worthy of acknowledgment. Such a scenario happened just this week, when the data for July (covering the period of June 19-July 16) revealed that WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan" program beat 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher and Rich" in the ratings.
"Dennis and Callahan" was second among men 25-54 overall in the month with an 8.2 share, trailing only rock station WZLX's morning show (8.3). "Toucher and Rich" was third with a 7.9. Among all sports programs in Boston in June, "Dennis and Callahan" was the highest-rated, edging The Sports Hub's afternoon-drive program, "Felger and Mazz".
It's the first month since February 2011 that "D&C," which also features Kirk Minihane, has topped "Toucher and Rich" in the ratings. Last July, "Toucher and Rich" had an 11.1 while "Dennis and Callahan" checked in with a 7.9.
So what does it mean? Well, full context comes later, and summer ratings for sports stations are notoriously fickle, but "Dennis and Callahan," whose ratings were always fine even if they weren't No. 1, has at least seized another chunk of audience.
And this sets up a very interesting August given that the Minihane/Erin Andrews controversy, which requires no further rehash here, began on the final day of the July monthly. Any listenership gains or backlash — and I'm betting on the former — will be reflected in the August monthly. Looks like that one will be worthy of acknowledgement, too.
Sending a message
Dan Le Batard, the ESPN radio and television host, was booted off the air for two days by the network Thursday for playing a brilliant joke it apparently deemed as unbecoming of a quasi-journalist.
The Miami-based Le Batard, an entertaining radio host who made his name as a superb columnist for the Miami Herald, bought a billboard in LeBron James's hometown of Akron, Ohio, that read: "You're welcome, LeBron. Love, Miami." Pictured were two championship rings, the number James won during his four years with the Heat before returning to Cleveland last month.
A statement announcing the ban — ESPN never used the word "suspension," for some reason — said this: "Dan Le Batard will be off the air for two days, returning Monday. His recent stunt does not reflect ESPN's standards and brand. Additionally, we were not made aware of his plans in advance."
Were not made aware of his plans in advance? Curious wording there. I say this facetiously, but it almost sounds as if ESPN was upset that it wasn't let in on the joke.
Ryder joins ESPN
John Ryder, fired by WEEI and Entercom in May as collateral damage to the shakeup of the midday show, has landed at ESPN Radio, where his duties will include some hosting of its Major League Baseball coverage. Ryder, who was replaced as the host of WEEI's Red Sox pregame and postgame programming by the reassigned Mike Mutnansky, didn't have the most prominent role at WEEI. But he was a welcome voice of knowledge and reason, and the surprising outpouring of feedback when he was let go was overwhelmingly in his favor.