In eking out a 20-17 win in Los Angeles on a last-second, 56-yard field goal, the Dallas Cowboys not only secured their first win of the season, but they also helped fuel a massive week for the NFL’s TV partners.
According to Nielsen live-plus-same-day data, the Cowboy’s gritty road win against the Chargers gave CBS its most-watched NFL broadcast in two years. The network’s late national window, which was heavily skewed toward the game in L.A.—only 9% of CBS’ affiliate markets were served up the Titans-Seahawks nail-biter—averaged 24.3 million viewers and a 12.6 household rating, which marked a 29% boost compared to the year-ago Chiefs-Chargers overtime brawl.
While Dak Prescott didn’t exactly shoot the lights out at SoFi Stadium, Dallas didn’t need a career performance from its starting quarterback. Stymied by the Bucs’ unyielding defense in their Thursday night opener, the Cowboys’ running game roared to life against the Chargers, churning up 198 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns. Dallas’ much-maligned D also did its part to nail down the victory, picking off Justin Herbert twice while also putting the stops on L.A.’s rushing attack.
For CBS, the hard-fought win helped scare up its biggest regular-season NFL deliveries since Dec. 8, 2019, when the Chiefs and Patriots drew 28.1 million viewers and a 16.1 rating. A balanced Cowboys attack and a return to the W column is likely to be a boon throughout the season, as Dallas is scheduled to appear in another nine national windows between now and Week 18.
The action didn’t let up in primetime, as NBC’s Sunday Night Football was the beneficiary of a blistering showdown between Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens and Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs. Jackson, who’d been 0-3 against the Chiefs since assuming the starting QB position back in 2018, managed to steal a win from the AFC’s top outfit, churning up 107 yards on the hoof and two touchdowns, the last of which was executed via a modified half-gainer that must have left all of Baltimore drenched in Natty Boh. In finally getting the best of their tormenters, the Ravens helped NBC scare up a TV audience of 19.8 million viewers, a tally which jumped to 20.4 million viewers when digital impressions were tossed into the media mix.
All told, NBC’s Sunday night TV audience was about 12% larger than the one that took in the year-ago Patriots-Seahawks game (17.7 million viewers). Season-to-date, the network has bragging rights to three of the NFL’s most-watched games, including the top-drawing Cowboys-Bucs opener (24.8 million TV viewers, 13.4 rating) on Sept. 9.
If the national windows have been outstanding thus far in 2021, the regional games are putting up some splashy numbers as well. Fox’s 1 p.m. ET slate, which included coverage of the Falcons-Bucs, 49ers-Eagles and Rams-Colts games, averaged a whopping 18.5 million viewers and a 9.6 rating, up 10% versus the analogous window in 2020, while CBS’ own early menu delivered 142 million viewers and a 7.6 rating. With 65% of its TV markets tuned into the Raiders-Steelers slugfest, CBS enjoyed a 45% boost compared to last year’s early window.
While ESPN’s Monday Night Football ratings have yet to be processed, this marked the first time that each of the NFL Sunday windows showed year-over-year ratings growth since Week 16 of the 2018 season.
Through the first two weeks of the season, the NFL’s top-spending advertisers include Geico, Progressive, FanDuel, DirecTV Stream, Verizon, Apple TV, State Farm and AT&T. Among the brands getting the most attention during the mid-game breaks are halftime show sponsors Toyota (NBC), Visa (Fox), Verizon (CBS) and USAA (ESPN).