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Bears WR Marc Mariani steps up on special night

Bears WR Marc Mariani fights for yards in Green Bay. (Getty)

Beating the Packers on Brett Favre Night meant plenty to the Bears. But for returner/receiver Marc Mariani, it truly was special.

“I kind of grew up a ‘Cheesehead,’ ” Mariani said. “My whole family is from Wisconsin. It means a lot to me to be able to wear the [Bears’] ‘C’ on my helmet, take the field at Lambeau Field on a pretty historic night when Brett Favre is going into the ring of [honor].

“It just meant a lot to me. [It was] my first game at Lambeau [Field]. I was hurt when the Titans came up here [in 2012]. I was a little extra juiced, and I got the biggest Packer fan ever, my grandpa, looking down. This game was for him.”

Mariani, who has been the Bears’ primary slot receiver with Eddie Royal nursing a knee injury, turned in quite the game. He made a career-high three catches and all of them went for first downs on third-down plays. Two of his receptions came on the Bears’ second-quarter drive that concluded with tight end Zach Miller’s touchdown catch.

“We ran 11 [personnel] a lot,” Mariani said of the three-receiver offensive formation that also features a tight end and running back. “We schemed for that. When it came time on third down, there were a couple looks we liked. It was one of those things, man, where they called my number a couple times, and I just knew I had to make a play for the guys.”

At an individual level, Mariani’s productive night overshadowed his recent struggles at punt returner. Receiver Deonte Thompson has handled kickoffs in Mariani’s place the past two weeks.

Right now , Mariani is needed more at slot receiver, where he looked like more than a temporary solution against the Packers. He was on for 51 of the Bears’ 67 offensive play in Green Bay.

Mariani had a 21-yard catch over the middle in the fourth quarter, freezing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in his tracks. He also showed off his strength fighting through cornerback Casey Hayward’s tackle for four yards on a third-and-3 play that nearly failed.

“We ask him to do a lot of the grunt work,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “He blocks, runs off [routes], and for him to get some catches on some big third downs for us and move the chains, he’s a fun guy to play with. He’s a guy in the huddle that you know he’s going to give you everything he’s got.”

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Email: ajahns@suntimes.com