Two Montana natives and former University of Montana standouts made key plays to help their NFL teams win games on Sunday.
Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann of Hardin, Mont., returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown to help the Falcons beat Cleveland 20-10, while Marc Mariani of Havre, Mont., had a long kickoff return to set up Tennessee’s final score in a 34-27 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
In Cleveland, Biermann leaped to tip a pass, caught the deflection with a headfirst dive, rolled on the ground, alertly jumped to his feet and outran a few Cleveland players for a spectacular touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The play was rough, rugged and rowdy – like Biermann.
“Kroy is from Montana,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He has probably rode a few wild broncos and bulls and been thrown off and landed on his feet. It was just a super athletic play.”
Following his first career interception as a pro and the only one he could remember since junior high, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Biermann, a fifth-round pick in 2008, was mobbed by his excited teammates in the end zone.
“The right play at the right time,” said Biermann, who needed oxygen after the play. “Once I caught it, I just got to my feet and started to run. I was glad it all worked out.”
In Arlington, Texas, Mariani made the Cowboys pay for an excessive celebration penalty after they tied the score at 27.
The 15-yard penalty prevented the Cowboys from kicking off into the end zone and the Titans special teams players gave Mariani room to run. He returned the kickoff 73 yards to the Cowboys 11. A face-masking penalty on the Cowboys gave the Titans the ball at the 5. Three plays later, Chris Johnson scored on a 1-yard run.
Mariani’s long return came a week after he returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Denver.