By Terrance Turner
Jan. 10, 2021
Today, the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears faced off in an NFL Wild Card Playoff game. The game will air live on CBS, with analysts Jim Nantz and Tony Romo. But for the first time ever, the game will be simulcast on Nickelodeon. CBS has partnered with the kid-centered network for the broadcast. According to CBS Sports, the Nickelodeon broadcast will feature original, on-field, Nick-themed and even slime-filled graphics.
The broadcast on Nickelodeon was anchored by NFL Network’s Nate Burleson and Clippers play-by-play announcer Noah Eagle. They were joined by a special guest: Gabrielle Neveah Green, who stars on Nickelodeon’s “All That”. Green, 15, co-stars on “All That” with actor Lex Lumpkin, who will provide sideline reporting.
“Our game plan is to make sure the NFL Wild Card Game on Nickelodeon definitely lives up to its name by infusing the telecast with Nick’s sensibility of surprise and fun at almost every turn,” said Brian Robbins, President of ViacomCBS Kids & Family Entertainment. “We’re incredibly proud to team up with CBS Sports and the NFL to elevate the thrill of this game for kids and families to enjoy together.”
Broadcasts typically introduce players to fans; this time they’ll be introduced by favorite food and hobbies instead of college and season statistics. More than 15 players per team filled out questionnaires to ensure that was possible, CBS Sports coordinating producer Shawn Robbins told USA TODAY. Green says that can engage new viewers: “Football can be kind of confusing,” Green told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s kind of hard to remember all those terms but if we can say, ‘Hey that’s the guy who loves chocolate ice cream and he just ran all the way down the field,’ that’s a win for us to get new football fans engaged.”
Saints’ De’Onte Harris got off to a fast start with a first down. Then, after a neutral zone infraction by the Bears defense, running back Alvin Kamara barreled down the field for a first down. Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas caught a pass from quarterback Drew Brees for the touchdown! As Thomas crossed into the end zone, two animated “slime cannons” sprayed a fountain over the end zone, drawing praise from viewers:
The game was 7-0. The Bears took over. WR Javon Wims had an amazing sideline catch — but then dropped what could’ve been a game-tying touchdown. The Bears scored no points, but they soon got a turnover: backup QB Taysom Hill had the ball knocked out of his hands mid-pass. The Bears recovered and drove down the field. They were nearing a score before Bears tight end Cole Kmet was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. Chicago did manage to score a field goal, making it 7-3.
Throughout the broadcast, the analysts described certain aspects of the game for the young viewers. They also answered quirky questions that children might ask. Green, 15, asked: “What happens if you have to go to the bathroom during a game?” Burleson and Eagle answered: you either hold it or go into one of the on-field tents — “kind of like a Port-a-Potty,” Burleson said. Burleson and Eagle also explained technical terms: “red zone” is the area from the 20-yard line to the end zone. If a team reaches that area, they have a good chance of scoring.
Burleson, Eagle, and Green worked admirably to make the game accessible young children. Unfortunately, one player seemed to have forgotten that kids were watching. Bears player Cordarrelle Patterson was caught on a hot mic, cursing after dual penalty flags were thrown by the ref. The moment was broadcast live for all the kids to hear:
In the second half, the Saints got a hard-fought scoring play. Tight end Jared Cook made a crucial catch on 3rd down, bringing the Saints near the red zone. The Saints were prepared to go for it on fourth down. On 4th and 2, the Bears were flagged for a neutral zone infraction (also known as “offsides”). As “Young Sheldon” explained, “offsides is when a defender jumps across the line of scrimmage and can’t get back in time”.
That explanation was rapidly followed by a touchdown. Under duress, Brees escaped Khalil Mack by throwing to RB Latavius Murray. After the catch, Murray raced into the end zone; the “slime cannons” formed another waterfall over the goal line. An extra-point kick made it 14-3, with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
Jordan Humphrey had a big play on 3rd and 11, driving the Saints to 1st and goal. On 2nd and goal, the Bears defense (#22) was flagged for holding. That penalty gave an automatic first down to the Saints. Taysom Hill rushed near the one-yard line, and Kamara ran in for the touchdown. New Orleans jumped ahead to a 21-3 lead.
After another scoreless drive for the Bears, the Saints took back over. Kamara had two big first-down plays, and another flag for offsides (on Chicago) made it 1st and goal for New Orleans. But the Saints came away scoreless after four stops by the Chicago defense. On 4th and goal, the Saints decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Brees tried to dive across the goal line. But the ball didn’t cross the plane. That made it a turnover on downs, giving the Bears the ball.
The Bears scored a touchdown (finally!) when Trubisky found tight end Jimmy Graham. After an incredible one-handed grab in the end zone, Graham fell to the ground. He then got up and left the field, running straight to the locker room as the fourth quarter ended.
The Saints won, 21-9. It proved to be a fitting birthday present for Drew Brees. He turns 42 this week, and now he’s on his way to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs. (The Saints face Tampa Bay next Sunday.) Brees threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, while Kamara ran for 99 yards and a TD.
UPDATE (Jan. 12, 2021): The NFL Wild Card match between the Bears and Saints drew a total 30.65 million viewers, according to a press release from ViacomCBS. It was the most-watched game of the NFL Wild Card weekend. In fact, it gave CBS more viewership than any Sunday Wild Card game in seven years.
“Sunday’s telecast on Nickelodeon was the network’s most-watched program among total viewers in nearly four years, delivering 2.061 million viewers,” the release said. Ratings went up 245% from what Nickelodeon had aired in that window a year before.