Chances are the most unforgettable kickoff return in Tennessee Titans history forever will be the one nearly 11 years ago when Kevin Dyson took a lateral from Frank Wycheck and went 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown in an AFC wild card contest — a.k.a. the Music City Miracle.
The one last Sunday, however, when Tommie Campbell took a handoff from Marc Mariani and went 84 yards for a score was plenty memorable in its own right. With that one, the Titans recorded touchdowns on both a punt return and a kickoff return in consecutive seasons — a first in the 51-year history of the franchise.
Perhaps even more important is the fact that it gave future opponents beginning with the Bills, who host Tennessee on Sunday (noon, CBS), something else to think about.
“We’re going to have things up our sleeves every week,” Mariani said. “Teams have to be prepared. Whenever we see things on film, we prepare for everything that we see. They’re going to have to take time out of practice and take time out of the film room to study us.
“It’s just an added benefit for us when they have something in the back of their mind that they’re nervous about. All in all, we’re going out there, taking the field and looking to make plays — and make big plays.”
That they have done.
Campbell’s touchdown came two weeks after Mariani took back a punt 79 yards for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers.
Mariani started the kickoff return when he fielded the ball at the goal line and made his way up the left side of the field. Campbell came from his left, took the handoff moving right and went untouched the rest of the way.
“Those guys on special teams are doing a great job,” coach Mike Munchak said. “A lot of that goes unnoticed, people only seem to notice when you do a reverse or a blocked kick or an onside kick — and we have done all of those things this year. The guys have played hard, they have been covering well, there is a lot of energy on that team and I think it’s as good as I have seen in a long time here where guys really enjoy being on the special teams.”
Each of the last three victories, in fact, has included a special teams touchdown. Tennessee’s 27-10 triumph over Indianapolis on Oct. 30 included a blocked punt, which Jason McCourty recovered in the end zone.
It had been more than three years since the last time the Titans scored in that fashion.
The time between touchdowns on returns was not nearly as lengthy. Mariani made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist last season when he was one of only two NFL players who scored on both a kickoff return and a punt return.
There have been only three other seasons — 1964, 1975 and 1977 — when the franchise scored on both types of returns.
“Lately, in all phases of the special teams game, we’re excited about taking the field and we’re excited about making plays — and we’re making plays that are impacting the game on Sundays, we’re making plays that help this team win,” Mariani said. “When you can factor into a game and can make special teams a focal point for the other team to prepare for, I think it can only benefit a team all around.
“… As a whole unit, we’re looking for those big plays. We’re looking to change the game.”