Devin Hester takes over an NFL record
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears' Devin Hester added to an already-long list of special-teams accolades Sunday against the Carolina Panthers when he broke up the home team's sideline for his NFL-record 11th punt return for a touchdown.
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After fielding a line-drive ball from Carolina punter Jason Baker, Hester broke a tackle, then sprinted up the sideline 69 yards for the score that gave the Bears a 24-10 lead. Hester punctuated the return with three consecutive somersaults in the end zone, and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as a result.
"It feels good," Hester said. "I knew my teammates were thirsting for a return, and I'm just glad and pretty honored to be on a team like this where we have 10 other guys out there that want a return just as bad as me."
The Bears won the game, 34-29.
Hester entered the game tied with Eric Metcalf for tops on the all-time list for punt return touchdowns.
The punt return came less than five minutes after Hester set up a Matt Forte touchdown run with a 73-yard kickoff return. Similar to the punt return, Hester broke up the home team's sideline, but was met by kicker Olindo Mare, who forced the returner out of bounds at the Carolina 36 and saved the touchdown.
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Hester isn't surprised that teams still kick to him.
"This is the NFL. You don't get greater players than the NFL," he said. "There's a reason why guys are playing in the NFL. They're the best players in the world. So teams are not just gonna shy away from one person in the return game."
Hester now has 39 punt returns of 20 yards or more in his career, which is the most in the NFL since the veteran entered the league in 2006. He is also the all-time leader for combined touchdowns on kick returns with 15.
Hester also surpassed Dante Hall (2,261) for 23rd in career punt return yards. Hester now has 2,300 punt return yards.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.