Special teams are a huge part of the NFL — of any football game really. And no one knows that better than former Havre Blue Pony and Tennessee Titan wide receiver Marc Mariani.
For the third straight week, and the second straight win, Mariani’s play on special teams sparked the Titans yet again. Mariani and Titans ba
ckup cornerback Tommie Campbell teamed up for 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown which gave the Titans an early 7-3 lead in their 23-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday afternoon at a cold and rainy LP Field in Nashville.
Mariani fielded the kick near the goal line and ran forward 16 yards, then handed the ball to Campbell on a reverse play — Campbell then raced 84 yards untouched to the endzone for the Titans’ second kickoff return for a score in the last two years. Mariani also returned a kick 98 yards for a score in October of 2010 against the Denver Broncos.
“We practiced it all week,” Mariani said of the trick play. “It is a very hard thing to do to give the ball to a man, to have an exchange with a guy who is that fast, coming around the corner, going full speed, to put the ball in his belly. We worked all week, and I knew if we executed the exchange, and he got to the corner, we’d be scoring every time. That was my main focus. I gave it to him and he did the rest. That’s why he’s so electric. He has the speed that you just can’t teach. When he got around the corner, around our 40-yard line, I knew it was going to be tough to catch him. Once that exchange was made, it was on. The race was on and I’ll take Tommie (Campbell) every time.”
It was a big day for Mariani and the Titans’ special team’s unit. The former Montana Grizzly great went over 80 yards on kickoff returns for the third straight week, racking up 83 yards on four returns. Last week, Mariani had a 49-yard return as well and he’s quickly climbing up the NFL leaders in kickoff returns yet again this season. Mariani came into Sunday’s game 20th in the NFL in kickoff returns, but was 12th in the NFL in punt returns. He was fifth in the AFC in punt returns and ninth in kickoff returns as Pro Bowl voting nears completion.
It was especially sweet knowing the Titans needed every bit of the special team’s play as they had to storm back from a 17-10 fourth-quarter deficit to win on a Rob Bironas field goal late in the game.
As a whole unit we we’re excited about the way we’re playing,” Mariani said. “Coverage, return game, and you know, we even blocked a punt today, which came back across the line of scrimmage, but shoot, those are huge plays for us. We know the last five games down the stretch we have to keep making plays, and we’re taking a lot of pride in the fact that when we take the field, something exciting is going to happen, whether it’s a turnover, blocked punt or return. We feel like if we do our jobs, we control our destiny. I think this is a total team victory because special teams set the tone.
“I love it and I love my job,” he added. “I love the responsibility of the return game, so we’re going to keep it rolling.”
Mariani and the Titans will travel to the Buffalo Bills this Sunday, hoping to keep their push towards earning an AFC playoff berth alive.