Viewers who tuned in to ESPN’s Monday Night Football might be forgiven for thinking that they’d stumbled across the cable TV premiere of The Cove, the documentary exposé about the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots last night absolutely eviscerated the Miami Dolphins, and despite the 41-14 final score, the national television audience stayed with the game until the bitter end.
Per Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings, the Patriots-Dolphins bloodbath drew just shy of 14 million viewers, making it the fifth most-watched program on cable this year. Despite offering little in the way of drama, the game likely retained its audience thanks to a definitive lack of sports counter-programming. (The American- and National League Division Series begin Wed., Oct. 6 on TBS; meanwhile, the NHL suits up for its 2010-11 campaign the following night, while the NBA new season tips off Oct. 26.)
Through the first five MNF telecasts of the 2010-11 NFL season, ESPN is averaging 14.8 million total viewers, down 6 percent from 15.7 million in the year-ago period. That said, last year’s analogous MNF matchup––an NFC North showdown that marked the first time Green Bay exile Brett Favre suited up in purple Vikings motley––now stands as the most-watched program in cable history. On Oct. 5, 2009, the Packers-Vikings grudge match drew 21.8 million viewers, smashing the record ESPN set the previous year (Eagles-Cowboys, 18.6 million).
(Favre’s defection to the Vikings struck many Wisconsinites as an act of civic betrayal. Green Bay diehards rate the wily old QB among history’s most vilified back-stabbers, lumping him in with the likes of Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot and Darth Vader.)
MNF returns to ESPN next week with an 8:30 p.m. EDT meeting between Favre’s Vikings (1-2) and sophomore signal caller Mark Sanchez’ New York Jets (3-1). Favre heads to the New Meadowlands Stadium with a lowly 60.4 QB rating, while his opposite number is ranked fourth in the league with a 105.3 rating, having thrown 8 touchdowns and 0 interceptions through the first four games.