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Hester-phobia hits: Fear led to fake punt

Devin Hester did it again.

Even better, the Fear of Hester did it again.

Not only did the incomparable kick returner help fuel the Bears’ second-half rally against the Jets on Sunday with a 38-yard punt return and 40-yard kickoff return, but Jets coach Rex Ryan said his fear of kicking to Hester played a part in his ill-fated decision to fake a punt on the first possession of the second half.

It backfired when Mark Sanchez threw incomplete to Brad Smith, and the Bears parlayed the momentum swing into 21 third-quarter points.

‘‘We worked on it all week. We felt good about it,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘Quite honestly, the ball got in Hester’s hands and we knew where it was going to end up.

‘‘It’s just one of those things where we thought that play was there. We knew that play was there. We have to execute it.’’

Hester’s kick returns only added to the Jets’ misery. He leads the NFL in punt returns (17.1 yards) and kickoff returns (35.6).

‘‘That was disappointing,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘I can understand you get a play or two, but we’re trying to kick the ball away from that guy. We tried to do it all day, but he got his hands on it. That’s when you see how important it is to kick the ball away from that kid. He’s the best returner in the game.’’

Jets punter Steve Weatherford knew he was in trouble on his line drive that Hester returned 38 yards to the Jets’ 32.

‘‘Unless he’s not able to get to the ball, I know it’s coming back,’’ Weatherford said. ‘‘That’s why it’s so tough to punt up here. That’s why he’s so effective. It’s windy. It’s nasty. It’s slippery out there. It was pretty muddy — you’re not going to hit every punt perfect.’’

A fake punt?

Even Jay Cutler didn’t quite get the thinking behind the Jets’ fake punt when they were leading 24-17. The Bears scored four of their five touchdowns when starting in Jets territory.

‘‘Yeah, that was huge,’’ Cutler said of the failed fake punt. ‘‘I don’t know what they were thinking exactly with that one. We had short fields all day with our return game and then stopping that punt, so it was huge. I put the defense in the hole with the pick-six, but other than that they gave us good field position.’’

Game time switched

The Bears’ regular-season finale against the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday was flexed by the NFL to a 3:15 p.m. kickoff.

‘‘Our preference is to play it at [noon], but it really doesn’t matter,’’ Bears coach Lovie Smith said before the time was switched. ‘‘It’s Green Bay — it’s our rival. We’ll play them anytime.’’

Back where he belongs

Lance Briggs made headlines last year when he said the Bears missed key contributors they lost from the 2006 Super Bowl team.

Safety Chris Harris keeps proving his point. Harris, who was traded to Carolina after the 2006 season but reacquired in the offseason, clinched the victory with an interception. He also had a fumble recovery for a career-high seven takeaways this season.

‘‘That’s the reason we brought him back,’’ Briggs said. ‘‘Never should have left, to be honest with you. All he does is make plays. Really, he needs to be on the field full-time.’’



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