LOS ANGELES (AP) ESPN's "Monday Night Football" crew is under the spotlight every week, but attention will be further magnified when the Los Angeles Rams host the Kansas City Chiefs in a matchup of 9-1 teams.
This week's game carries more storylines than usual. It's the first Monday night game in Los Angeles since 1985. It's also just the second time that teams meeting on Monday night in Week 11 or later have each had one or fewer losses.
While most of the attention will be focused on quarterbacks Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes, it is also an opportunity for the crew of Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland to show improvement in what has at times been a trying first year.
That is especially true for Witten, whose transition from the playing field to the booth has not gone quite as well as former teammate Tony Romo's move to CBS. Witten has had some noticeable flubs but has owned up to them.
"Hell, I'm not perfect," Witten said during a teleconference last week. "Certainly with Tony and the success that he had, I really try not to live in that world and fully embrace it and continue to get better and evaluate it. I think with the flubs, I certainly do not deny it, I don't try to hide it and as you said, that's really all you can do in those moments is self-deprecate and move forward."
Three-man booths can take time to develop, but time has not been on the side of recent announcing teams. The last three "MNF" booths with two analysts have lasted two or three seasons.
The challenge of developing chemistry is tougher since McFarland is down on the field hovering above the action instead of next to Tessitore and Witten. "MNF" producer Jay Rothman said there are cameras set up where the announcers can see each other and that interruptions have been rare.
"I think it's going to be something unique and different that no other, no other broadcast can offer, which is offense, defense, young, old, I consider myself old, guys talking about football and having a conversation that pulls the viewer in," McFarland said.
Tessitore said the group's biggest improvement has been late in games when they have been close.
"I think that's when the three of us are at our best," he said. "I never doubt our ability to document, assess, talk strategy, scheme, players, in the moment quickly and just let it happen. Where I think this crew has gotten better in recent weeks, and I think it's going to continue to get better, is having really good cohesive conversation that flows and finds a rhythm."
Both teams already have wins on Monday night this season. The Rams defeated the Raiders in Week 1 and the Chiefs rallied to beat the Broncos in Week 4. Witten said while everyone is looking at the matchup between the quarterbacks, the chess match between coaches Sean McVay and Andy Reid is even more interesting.
"The Rams having a season that they had last year with a young head coach, a lot of hype, a lot of expectations and they have met that," he said. "On the other side, it's kind of the opposite. I mean, Andy Reid has really reinvented himself offensively in Kansas City, making a decision to trade Alex Smith who had taken that team to multiple playoff appearances, and Patrick Mahomes, I mean, he's worth the price of admission."
"Monday Night Countdown" analyst Louis Riddick said the game moving to Los Angeles from Mexico City might make it even better.
"If this doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what does. Now with it being played stateside, a lot of people will be lucky to go to this game," he said.
ESPN has not been fortunate with great late-season matchups in recent years, but that isn't the case this season. Monday's game is part of five straight weeks of games with playoff implications. The network is also pleased with the ratings, which are up four percent from last season, averaging 11.4 million viewers.
This week's matchup has a chance to be the most widely-watched "MNF" game on ESPN. The record is the 2009 game between the Vikings and Packers, when Brett Favre's return to Green Bay drew 21.839 million viewers.
"There are those teams from a ratings perspective that are just global teams that move the meter the Steelers, Packers, Patriots and Cowboys," Rothman said. "Historically, Kansas City has not been one of those that move the meter ... and L.A. is sort of getting there, but it's going to be interesting to see."