Montana natives and former University of Montana stars Kroy Biermann and Marc Mariani played key roles in victories by their NFL teams on Sunday.
In Cleveland, Biermann needed oxygen after knocking the air out of the Cleveland Browns left him winded.
The Hardin native and Atlanta Falcons defensive end 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, giving the Falcons a 20-10 win over the battered Browns on Sunday.
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."
With the Falcons up 13-10, Biermann sniffed out a screen pass as he pressured Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme on third-and-7. Biermann jumped to bat Delhomme’s pass high in the air and then hustled to snare it, catching the ball just above the turf like a seasoned wide receiver.
Knowing he had not been touched and could still run, Biermann hopped up and rumbled 31 yards, dragging a final defender into the end zone to make it 20-10 with 4:01 left.
"That was the trifecta right there," an impressed Falcons running back Michael Turner said. "A tremendous play. You can’t get better than that. I didn’t critique his technique. I was too busy cheering."
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 as he laid breathless in the end zone.
"The right play at the right time," he said. "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 Dallas Cowboys pay for a penalty in the Tennessee Titans’ 34-27 win.
After catching a touchdown pass from Tony Romo to tie the game at 27-27 with 4:30 left in the game, Jason Witten handed the football to Marc Colombo so the burly offensive lineman could spike it. Then they leaped and bumped chests, with Colombo losing his balance on the landing and tumbling across the end zone.
The celebration drew a 15-yard penalty and pushed back the kickoff. Mariani, a rookie free agent from Havre, followed with a 73-yard return to the Dallas 5-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown by Chris Johnson with 3:28 left to give the Titans the win.
“That misconduct penalty was big,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. “That return probably doesn’t happen if they’re not kicking off down there (on their 15).”
Witten was confused about the celebration penalty, noting that Colombo has spiked it before and they’ve bumped chests.
"I don’t think he was trying to do anything different," Witten said.
Phillips said he was told Colombo going to the ground was enough to draw the flag, even if it was by accident. Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 (d) of the NFL Rule Book says "players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground," and (e) says a penalty can be levied if "two-or-more players engage in prolonged, excessive, premeditated, or choreographed celebrations."
"You want guys to celebrate, but not get celebration penalties," Phillips said.