A matchup of two of the NFL’s most popular franchises has delivered the league’s best ratings and biggest audience of the 2016 season. The streaking Dallas Cowboys’ thrilling 35-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers — which featured seven lead changes and two touchdowns in the final minute — averaged 28.9 million viewers Sunday afternoon and a 16.4 rating/30 share for Fox.
That topped Fox’s October 16 game between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, which drew 28 million viewers and a 15.8/30. Later that same night, the Houston Texans’ 26-23 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts posted a five-year ratings low for NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Sunday’s wild Cowboys-Steelers tilt was led by rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott’s three-TD performance, including a 32-yard run to seal the win with just nine seconds left. That came after Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown on a fake-spike play with 42 seconds left.
The big numbers for America’s Game of the Week on Fox — which is averaging 25.9 million viewers and a 14.7/28 this season — bucked a downward trend for NFL broadcasts in 2016, as primetime games have faced a slew of competition for viewers. Ratings for the league’s night games also might be affected by pro football oversaturation, with game airing on three nights along with Sunday doubleheaders, and viewer dissatisfaction with the National Anthem protests started by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.