Microsoft’s Surface takes a hit during NFL playoff game

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Microsoft's Surface takes a hit during NFL playoff game

Microsoft’s Surface dropped the ball for the New England Patriots.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft’s tablet partnership with the National Football League has not always been smooth.

After Microsoft struck a reported $400 million deal in 2013 with the NFL to have its Surfaces exclusively on team sidelines for reviewing plays, TV commentators kept referring to them as “iPads.” At the time, it was said that networks were constantly reminding their talkers that the Surface looks nothing like an iPad and should therefore be referred to by its actual name.

Microsoft suffered another public black eye during the AFC championship game Sunday between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots when the tablets on the Patriots’ sidelines apparently failed.

“They’re having some trouble with their Microsoft Surface tablets, CBS’ sideline reporter Evan Washburn reported during the game. “On the last defensive possession the Patriots’ coaches did not have access to those tablets to show pictures to their players. NFL officials have been working at it. Some of those tablets are back in use, but not all of them. A lot of frustration that they didn’t have them on that last possession.”

The Patriots’ tablets were soon restored to working order after the brief interruption, which a Microsoft spokesman blamed on a network connectivity issue.

“Our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network,” the company said in a statement. “We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly.”

The Broncos, which apparently didn’t suffer a tablet interruption, were allowed to continue using their tablets because NFL rules require the tablets to be shut down for both teams only if they malfunction before the game begins.

It wasn’t the first time Redmond, Washington, tech titan’s tablet has taken a beating on the sidelines. During a game last month between the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers, controversial Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football, clutched his Surface with frustration and began banging the device repeatedly against his head.

The sidelines and the broadcast booth aren’t the only place the tablets are taking a beating. Consumers aren’t snapping up slates as fast as they did a few years ago, according to data collected by market researcher IDC. Worldwide tablet shipments declined more than 12 percent during the third quarter of 2015, IDC reported in October, their fourth straight quarterly decline.

Updated at 2:45 p.m. PTwith Microsoft comment.