Vikings pay the price for kicking to Hester
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org
Devin Hester takes off on one of his two kickoff returns Sunday. He also returned two punts.
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Forget about his bizarre decision to waive Randy Moss a few weeks ago. Brad Childress should get launched just for kicking to Devin Hester on Sunday.
The Bears aren't complaining, of course, not after Hester had a 68-yard kickoff return and a 42-yard punt return in their 27-13 victory over the sinking Vikings.
But they are questioning the mental health of the person who decided it was a good idea to put the ball anywhere within several zip codes of Hester. That ultimately is Childress, who has spent the past few weeks devising new ways to do himself in.
Death by foot wouldn't seem like the proudest way to go out.
Why would anyone kick to Hester-
''I'm asking myself the same question,'' Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox said. ''I don't know why. They've seen what he's done in past years. Why would you kick to a guy that can break something at any time of the game- ''
And the coach says ...
Hester has 13 combined kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in his career, which is tied for the NFL record. He ran a punt back 89 yards in a loss to the Seahawks a month ago, so it wasn't as if he was a dormant volcano coming into this game. He was chasing history.
''[Punter] Chris Kluwe did a nice job with the ball, and I thought he hung it the way it should have been hung,'' Childress said.
Whatever you say, coach. There are better explanations for why the Vikings kicked the ball to Hester, who finished with 185 all-purpose yards. It's either machismo overtaking common sense or a head coach who's worried about sending the wrong message to his team.
''Am I surprised that teams still kick to him- No,'' Bears linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. ''You don't want to tell your team, 'We can't cover him.' I think coaching-wise, it's just that stubbornness. You don't want to sell yourself short.
''But, gosh, sometimes you've got to swallow your pride.''
Hester able to refocus
Hester's best return wasn't even his longest. Kluwe sent a high kick along the sideline in the third quarter. He might even have been trying to kick it out of bounds. It can't be emphasized enough that he didn't.
Hester made something out of nothing on a 42-yard return, thanks to some nifty moves and some poor tackling along the sidelines by Vikings defenders.
''He was huge,'' Tinoisamoa said. ''We've got guys out there who want to get that record just as much as Devin does, so that helps. But today, he was just putting on a glittering display of fine returning.''
It helps that Hester has gone back to embracing his role as a returner. The previous two seasons, he wanted to concentrate on being a receiver and seemed intent on keeping special teams at arm's length.
''I felt like I had the return game mastered, and I wanted to really focus on receiver,'' said Hester, who -- oh, yeah -- also caught a touchdown pass Sunday. ''Now that I felt a little more comfortable at receiver, then I could really start back focusing on returning as well.''
He had been bugging the coaches to let him return kickoffs, something he hadn't done since last season's opener. Whoever's decision it was to put him back there Sunday should get a bonus in his check. When he finally got his hands on a kickoff in the first quarter, he returned it 32 yards.
That seemed to plant some doubt in the Vikings. After Minnesota took a 10-7 lead, Ryan Longwell kicked low to play keep-away from Hester. Rashied Davis, the up man, returned it 32 yards to the Vikings' 49-yard line. The Bears were looking at wonderful field position.
You could almost see the thought bubble above Childress' head: Tell me again why we're not kicking to Hester-
The Vikings went back to Plan A, an unfortunate decision along the lines of pitching to a home-run hitter with men on second and third, and first base open. The 68-yard return would come in the third quarter and lead to a field goal.
That record is right there
The Bears are very much aware of Hester's pursuit of the return record. They're also aware that they're not exactly an offensive juggernaut. Jay Cutler can't snap his fingers and get a touchdown. So they'll take the added boost a Hester kickoff return can add.
Punts, kicks -- Hester doesn't care.
''I just like having the ball in my hands,'' he said. ''I feel like I can do great things with the great talent that God blessed me with.''
Did he think he was going to break one Sunday-
''Every time,'' he said, smiling.
Cocky- Yep. Dangerous- That too.
''He's a bad man,'' said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, meaning just the opposite.
Someone should have informed Childress of this. Unless they wanted to get him fired. Hmmm.