ATLANTA – Move over Deion Sanders, hello to Devin Hester. Thanks to a 62-yard punt return, Hester raced down the left sideline and into the NFL record books.
Hester, the long-time Chicago Bears return specialist who signed with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, surpassed the Hall-of-Fame return man for most career return touchdowns in the Falcons 56-14 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday night.
In front of his former head coach in Chicago—and new Tampa head coach—Lovie Smith, the former Miami Hurricane scored on a 20-yard touchdown on a reverse and a 62-yard punt return, his 20th all-time, surpassing Sanders.
Hester would also surpass Sanders for the most total return touchdowns with 19.
In surpassing Sanders, Hester sits atop the list of most career returns for a touchdown—which includes punts, kickoffs, fumble returns and missed field goal return touchdowns. Hester’s new all-time mark of 20, consists of 14 punt return touchdowns, five kickoff returns and one on a fumble return.
- Devin Hester: 20
- Deion Sanders: 19
- Rod Woodson: 17
- Ronde Barber: 14
With the score 28-0, Hester would field the kick at his own 38-yard line and after making a few Tampa defenders miss, race down the left sideline and—in true Sanders fashion—highstep the last five yards, drawing a 15-yard penalty for taunting.
While the Falcons laughed, the Buccaneers were anything short of enjoying being a red-and-pewter punchline.
Hester would exit the game due to cramps, but by then, the damage was done and the Falcons, one week after getting mauled on the banks of the Ohio River, 24-10, the Falcons returned to their comfortable nest in the capital of the South and magically look like the NFC contenders that many experts have pegged to challenge the likes of Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans.
Lost in all the Hester record-breaking heroics was the solid performance of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, who set a new franchise single-game completion record(87.5) in completing 21-of-24 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns.
After getting sacked twice by the ferocious Bengals defense, Ryan would be much better protected, thanks to the return of first-round pick left tackle, Jake Matthews in only being sacked once.
But unlike in the Queen City, Ryan had time to step up in the pocket and looked both comfortable and in complete control inside the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.
Ryan would be pulled halfway in the third quarter for backup T.J. Yates.
In the case of Tampa bay, if there isn’t a call to start second-year quarterback Mike Glennon, then his performance—mostly against second-stringers—needs to be looked at as he seem to light a spark for Tampa Bay in leading them to a touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson—on a missed push-off in the endzone.
Glennon would finish 17-of-24 for 121 yards and starting quarterback Josh McCown—who would exit with a thumb injury in the third quarter—looked and played uninspired would go 5-of-12 for 58 yards and one interception.
But on this Thursday night, Hester once again proved to be too ridiculous for his old coach in Smith and his new team in the Buccaneers.
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