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Vikings’ Patterson lights fire under Hester; Bears returner runs for franchise record

Updated: September 15, 2013 10:29PM



Devin Hester rarely is the second-best kick returner on the field. But he was Sunday — for a moment.

When Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned Robbie Gould’s opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, Hester saw red. But he also saw opportunity. If Gould couldn’t kick it out of the end zone, it’s unlikely Blair Walsh could, either.

‘‘It [ticked] me off to have somebody come on our home turf and take one to the house,’’ Hester said. ‘‘Ooh, it [ticked] me off. I was so [mad] before [the ensuing] kickoff. I was just praying — I don’t care how deep this guy kicks it, I’m bringing it out. Don’t expect me to take a knee.’’

Hester took advantage of the opportunity to do what he does best by doing what he does best. He took Walsh’s kickoff eight yards deep, burst through a seam into the open, and it was just like old times at Soldier Field. Except that he couldn’t finish the job. Two defenders had the angle on him, and Josh Robinson tackled Hester at the Vikings’ 32.

While Patterson became just another kick returner after his opening splash — he returned two other kickoffs 22 and 26 yards — Hester was Devin Hester all day. He was even closer to scoring on his next return — zigging when he maybe should have zagged on an 80-yard return in which Robinson caught him at the Vikings’ 23. Hester added returns of 42, 31 and 20 yards for a franchise-record 249 kickoff-return yards — a 49.8-yard average. Let’s see the 22-year-old Patterson do that when he’s 30.

But even Hester was not buying into the story line that his big game against the Vikings means he’s back. For one thing, he insists he never left in the first place. And for another, he knows his big day was all about circumstance. A week ago, eight of nine kickoffs at Soldier Field were touchbacks. On a cool, wet, rainy day against the Vikings, 10 of 11 kickoffs from the 35-yard line were returnable.

‘‘The weather played a factor,’’ Hester said. ‘‘It was a rainy day. The ball was a little heavy. So it kind of prevented a lot of touchbacks.’’

It gave Hester opportunities on kickoffs he hasn’t seen often and might not see again.

‘‘Opportunities come and go,’’ Hester said. ‘‘Who knows how next week is going to go? Teams watch film, and they see how good our special teams are doing right now — I might not get any more kicks for the next three or four games.’’

Hester was disappointed he didn’t score, but it might work in his favor. His returns are on film, but touchdowns make the highlight shows and ingrain in opponents’ minds just how real the danger is. For a guy with 19 return touchdowns in his NFL career, Sunday was laying low.

‘‘I don’t want to scare anybody,’’ Hester said. ‘‘I don’t want teams to start kicking away from me. I hope teams continue to give me opportunities.’’

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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