Mike Carey doesn't suck.
Despite the seemingly overwhelming perception of NFL fans across social media, CBS' NFL officiating expert, who will be on hand during Super Bowl 50 to weigh in on official calls and rules, is amazingly accurate in his analysis of plays, particularly replays, and employs impressive diligence in his preparation and game-time process.
To be sure, Carey has stumbled at times in his occasionally overconfident analysis of plays. In the November tilt between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, Carey blundered a call that ultimately awarded an interception to Kam Chancellor. His firm analysis, which the NFL ultimately said was incorrect, earned him some harsh words from writers and fans.
"That's one I wish I had back," Carey said Monday as he and CBS' broadcasting crew prepared for this Sunday's Super Bowl telecast.
Yet what fans and writers don't understand -- and, frankly, haven't cared to unearth -- is Carey's process of analysis that has, believe it or not, accurately predicted the NFL's final ruling on replay 90 percent of the time this season.
"I hear that I'm always wrong," Carey said. "You tell me, is that fair? I don't think it matches the statistics."
Whether fans want to believe it or not, that 90 percent rate is quite remarkable. In his nearly split-second decision window Carey is, after all, handicapped quite a bit by both access and time. For Thursday Night Football games on CBS and NFL Network, Carey is on location and in the booth with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz: It's just him and a monitor, with little direct control over how quickly he can see a play forward and backward.
When Carey works games on Sundays, he's in the studio with access to various resources. He has a bit more control over what he sees and how he sees it. He has other people helping him out when he needs some backup. But even in that ideal setting, he always has less control over replay options than the league office has in choosing the shots used to make decisions in New York and his access still isn't on par with the referee assigned to the game.
On the field, the covering official isn't just letting the referee and NFL know he saw "pass interference." He'll tell the referee exactly what he observed, giving him stronger direction for the replay analysis: "I saw the defender with his right arm grab the receiver by his left shoulder and twist his shoulder back." That's key direction Carey doesn't get.
While the referee is getting the feedback from the covering official and the head coach challenging the call, the NFL's replay team is putting together all the key shots they need to make the correct call.
"In officiating we have a resource that's called 'emptying the bucket,'" Carey said. "So the producer throws up all the shots. They've got a multiplex screen, and the replay official picks the ones that he thinks are best, he puts them down, and they go through and process that.
"By the time the referee gets to the booth he's conferred with the coach about what he wants, he's conferred with the calling official with specifically what he's seen, so he's got a nice frame of mind so when he gets there he knows exactly what he's looking for. So when he gets to the booth, it's already keyed up to the most germane spot about that play. So he watches that, asks for another angle, and he [and the league office] have time to really put the process together."
That's a lot of access that Carey, virtually alone with his monitor, simply doesn't have.
Another element working against Carey is the time he has to deliver his analysis. His value to CBS is making a "prediction" before the final ruling comes down, meaning he's deciding on a call in less time than the NFL, beating them to the punch with fewer resources. If the league takes three minutes to make a determination, from the moment the challenge flag is thrown to the announcement of the ruling, Carey is making his prediction in half that time.
His infamous call in the first half of the 2015 AFC Championship -- that a backward pass by Peyton Manning would be ruled forward -- was registered quickly; In real time it seemed almost hasty.
"That's one of the other ones I wish I had back," Carey said.
That speaks to what Carey said is the almost counter-intuitive secret to success in the booth, which was the same as it was for him as an on-field official.
"Most of the mistakes you make are by going too quickly. It's very difficult to slow the process down. We have an axiom in officiating that says, when the game starts to speed up and really starts going crazy, you've gotta go slow. Much slower. And you do that by looking at the fine details. And when you feel like you're in that nice slow mode, go even slower. That's part of the process that I set up before I go on."
Part of that game-time process is a phone "hotline" between NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, FOX officiating expert Mike Pereira and himself.
"We use the hotline as things come up while games are going on," Carey said. "We'll collaborate on things. Though we don't use it quite enough after games are over. Dean puts out a training tape that week. We should be talking about what do we collaboratively to think about those things that are positive or those things that need to be tweaked."
To be clear, Blandino isn't using "the Mikes" to help make replay decisions. Rather, the trio talk during the games about calls they see or announced replay decisions to share ideas and philosophies about approaching each play. By sharing their perspectives with one another, they are able to bring some consistency to their approaches.
That is keenly important to Carey and the NFL. With plenty of gray area in the rules, consistency is the light through the fog. On the field it is paramount that officials consistently make determinations through the same (or at least virtually similar) lenses. The same holds true for Blandino, Pereira and Carey, who can collectively bring clarity on the rules to fans if they make determinations through the same lenses. Communication between the three men is crucial to that.
While viewing plays with the same philosophy is important, Carey said there is no substitute for what leads to success as a coach, a player or an on-field official: preparation.
"I haven't changed from the way I do it on the field. You have to be in the rulebook all the time. It's a very complex document, a dynamic document that changes depending on what type of play action you have. So if you're not in the rulebook every day, you'll make more mistakes than you want to make. So I read the rulebook, I think about the mechanics, and I do a lot of film work, especially catch and no-catch and keeping my mind fresh with plays. I'm in the rulebook every day."
While fans will no doubt continue to mock Carey for his rare missteps, imparting knowledge about the rules to the fans will continue to be his focus. The way this season has gone, he should have plenty of opportunity for that this Sunday.