Mariani's Pro Bowl debut one for the NFL record books

Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 10:45pm
Staff reports

Marc Mariani set Pro Bowl records for kickoff returns and kickoff return yards Sunday as the turnover-prone AFC was beaten 55-41 by the NFC in the NFL’s annual all-star contest.

Mariani, the Tennessee Titans’ rookie return specialist, took back nine kickoffs for 326 yards (an average of 36.2 yards per return). His longest, 52 yards, came in the first quarter.

The nine returns broke the record of eight set by Tennessee’s Derrick Mason in 2004. The 326 yards broke the mark of 228 set by Chicago’s Jerry Azumah, also in 2004.

With such extended involvement, Mariani, a seventh-round draft pick out of Montana, already ranks third in Pro Bowl career kickoff return yards. He trails only Carolina’s Michael Bates (488 from 1997-2001) and Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs, the AFC’s return man each of the previous three years (373).

He also returned one punt for one yard and gained 11 yards rushing on two attempts.

Mariani was one of four Tennessee players who participated in the contest at Honolulu on the Sunday, which for the second straight year was played on the Sunday between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

Mariani and defensive end Jason Babin were voted onto the original rosters. Running back Chris Johnson and safety Michael Griffin were added because of injuries to others.

Griffin took advantage of his inclusion and finished as the game’s leading tackler with eight stops. Johnson rushed six times for 33 yards and caught two passes for 11 yards. Babin was credited with one assisted tackle.

Mariani returned five kicks in the first half, when the AFC committed five of its six turnovers and fell behind 35-0. All three AFC quarterbacks, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel, all threw at least one interception and wide receiver Wes Welker lost a fumble. Cassel threw another interception in the second half.

Thirty-five of the NFC’s 55 points came as a result of turnovers.

11 Comments on this post:

By: fdanshep on 1/31/11 at 7:37

Good for Marc! I know this was more or less an exhibition, but Babin's effort was lackluster at best. I believe that if you accept an invitation, you should at least give an effort!

By: shinestx on 1/31/11 at 8:43

He is one (maybe the only!) of the bright spots from an otherwise disastrous season... and team. Congratulations on your recognition, Mark.

By: shinestx on 1/31/11 at 8:43

Of course, it's Marc.

By: knilob on 1/31/11 at 9:19

I'm happy for Marc, and the rest of the Titans who made the trip. That being said, this game was a complete joke! I had to stop watching after the kickoff where the NFC basically gave the AFC a free touchdown. It really seemed like the league told the AFC to let the NFC back in the game.

Also, there are rarely going to be defensive line players who perform well in the Pro Bowl. I'm pretty sure they are all told to ratchet it down, and that's hard on a guy like Babin who, like Vanden Bosch before him, really plays at only one speed.

It would also be cool if the NFL took note of this year's NHL All-Star format. There are no predefined teams for each conference. All of the players selected are going to be assigned to a team using a Fantasy League draft format. I would watch a Pro Bowl that worked in that manner.

By: knilob on 1/31/11 at 9:20

Whoops! It should say, "It really seemed like the league told the NFC to let the AFC back in the game."

By: TITAN1 on 1/31/11 at 9:35

Props to Marc. As for Babin, I think DE's are very limited to what they can do. His specialty is sacking the quarterback. I really hope we keep Babin.

By: fdanshep on 1/31/11 at 9:45

My Bad! I did not realize that you could not rush the QB. Makes Jason's talents of little use. Just box in the outside runs and run to the ball. Sorry Jason!

By: TITAN1 on 1/31/11 at 10:49

You can get a sack if the QB stands there long enough or runs around, but Jason as you stated makes his living going on the snap straight to the QB.

By: iTiSi on 1/31/11 at 11:47

This game is nothing but a farce!!!! I watched it for 15 mins., thought I was watching a soccer game, and turned it. That's my last Pro Bowl!!!!!!

By: hibbler on 1/31/11 at 11:58

knilob, in regard to the NHL All Star format, I was disappointed in it. It truely was just an exhibition as I found it difficult to root for a specific team. When it's east vs west, I know players from the west better because the Preds play them more and I can pull for those players and the west team. Yesterday's game was just an exhibition and, because there was really no serious defense played, I found it boring. Much like if you kissed your sister, no excitement. Now it's back to the Preds and a serious run in the playoffs. GO PREDS!!!

By: jwk6179 on 1/31/11 at 1:07

I watched a little of the 1st half yesterday basically because NOTHING ELSE was on. I've been saying for years that the Pro-Bowl is a farce. A player from any team that DID NOT make the play-offs hasn't played in about a month. I think the NFL should just do away with the game itself. Name a Pro Bowl team but not play the game. Wouldn't hurt my feelings.