EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

December 16, 2007

America's (and your) team; Sorry Cowboys, but the country is more enamored with Patriots

FOXBORO - Beating two of the best teams in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts, on the road, is one thing. But beating "Desperate Housewives" to a pulp, now that's an accomplishment.



That's indeed what happened three Sundays ago when the unbeaten Patriots edged past the Philadelphia Eagles, 31-28. That telecast on CBS, due to the Patriots record and the fact that it came down to the last drive, drew 41 percent more viewers than the usual Sunday night ratings' champ, "Desperate Housewives."



But that only reports a smidgen of the nation's obsession with the Patriots this season.



In fact, if you want to get technical, it really started in January for the AFC Championship with the Indianapolis Colts. That broadcast was the highest-rated television program over the course of the 2006 regular season and 2007 playoffs. Only the Super Bowl was bigger.



The Patriots and their cavalcade of viewers have picked up steam every step of the way.



This is a far cry from the 2001 and later the 2003 and 2004 Patriots Super Bowl teams. Those teams were considered dull, uninspired and boring.



Not so in 2007.



These Patriots might as well be Muhammad Ali, the New York Yankees or Howard Cosell. They have become a polarizing force in sports television and the networks have been salivating all season about it.



Two Patriots games on CBS this season, Oct. 14 in Dallas and Nov. 4 in Indianapolis, were record-breakers. The game versus the Colts ranks as the most watched afternoon regular season ever, besting the Cowboys-49ers tilt in 1986, with over 33 million viewers. The Cowboys game is the second most-watched game on CBS this season.



ESPN has a similar Patriots' story. The Pats-Ravens game two Sundays ago was the most watched cable program ... ever. That's right, the 27-24 come-from-behind Patriots' win was a huge ratings success with an estimated 17.5 million watchers. To put that in perspective, the last episode of the Sopranos in 2007 was seen by 12 million viewers, nearly 50 percent less than the Patriots-Ravens barnburner.



Let's not leave out NBC and Sunday Night Football, which never had the same team play on consecutive weekends. That all changed when the Patriots were part of the first "flex" game, a rule that allowed NBC to change the previously scheduled game with a more attractive one.



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