Add Charlotte, N.C. to the list of places former Havre High star Marc Mariani will never forget.
On Sunday afternoon,
Mariani scored his third career NFL touchdown when he raced 79 yards untouched for a punt return TD in the first quarter of the Tennessee Titans’ 30-3 win over the Carolina Panthers. The score was Mariani’s second career punt return for a TD. He also took a punt back against the Washington Redskins last November on his way to Pro Bowl honors.
Sunday’s TD came right away, with just over 13 minutes left in the first quarter and it sparked the Titans to a much-needed road victory.
“I think that was huge for us,” Mariani said in a postgame press conference. “ Especially first quarter, out the gate to build momentum and to take over so early was huge. A lot of credit to those guys, it was a big play for us.
“Marc (Mariani) had a great return, well blocked. We’ve been getting better at that the last few weeks. We’ve been getting some opportunities. We thought we had a shot today, but that’s a huge play,” Titans head coach Mike Munchak said.
Both Munchak and Mariani said the Titans’ return game has been getting closer and closer to breaking one. Sunday, Mariani did just that, getting a pair of great initial blocks that sent him streaking up the left sideline with almost no Panthers left in site.
It’s been a frustrating season for Mariani in the return game. After going to the Pro Bowl a year ago, he’s been stymied for much of the year on kickoff returns. But in each of his last three games, he’s had punt returns of 20 yards or longer, including today’s TD. On Sunday, Mariani finished with six punt returns for a 103 yards.
“I think we put a big emphasis on the return game this week,” Mariani said. “Not so much because of them but because we know we can be better on kick return and punt return. We’re close and we want to break some of these, so it was more of an emphasis and more of a focus. Hopefully there will be more to come.”
Mariani will get more opportunities this Sunday when the Titans road trip to Atlanta to battle the Atlanta Falcons.