Devin Hester showed again Sunday why he's the NFL's most dangerous return man. He also showed why he might be mentioned along with current receiving greats one day as well.
Devin Hester showed again Sunday why he's the NFL's most dangerous return man.
He also showed why he might be mentioned along with current receiving greats one day as well.
That's the plan, and consensus, talking to the Bears and their second-year wonder from Miami, Fla.
Hester hauled in a 55-yard bomb from Kyle Orton on a streak route for a touchdown that put Chicago ahead 24-14 with 1:48 to go in the first half. Less than three minutes after played resumed after intermission, he broke off a 64-yard punt return for a 31-17 cushion that helped the Bears beat New Orleans 33-25 and eliminate the Saints from playoff contention.
Hester broke his own NFL record with his sixth return via punt or kickoff for a score in a single season. He had five combined last year. He also led Chicago with eight touchdowns this season.
His touchdown reception was his second this season, and it might just be a preview of things for him as an offensive weapon.
"Of course I'm ready to step up to the challenge," he said about becoming a No. 1 receiver. "I feel I stepped up to the challenge when my name was called, and I'm hoping to continue to be called on."
His name, appropriately, should be on offensive coordinator Ron Turner's speed dial beginning with offseason minicamps.
"He can do about anything he wants to do," Turner said. "I look forward to that in the offseason, for him to take another step. He moved over this offseason (from defense), and slowly and gradually learned the position.
"Now, going into the offseason, we'll give him an opportunity to do that and refine his skills. He was learning from scratch."
The way Turner and Hester's teammates see it, Hester's barely scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing.
Said center Olin Kreutz: "I've never been around anybody like that on special teams and offense. He caught the punt, took one step up field and I just turned around and walked to the bench because I knew he was gone. It was just one of most amazing things I've ever seen."
You might not have seen anything yet, at least as a receiver.
"When all is said and done, I feel I gradually got better as a game-wise player," said Hester, who became the first player in NFL history with two 600-plus yard punt return seasons (600 in 2006; 651 in 2007). "That's what I wanted to get better at, just being kind of consistent on the offensive side.
"At the beginning of the season, I knew whoever knows football, they knew I wasn't going to come in and explode on the scene. Offense takes time, especially coming from a player who never played offense. It's going to take time."
Harris: Keep Briggs
Alex Brown tried to weigh his words carefully when asked if the Bears should re-sign free-agent Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, but fellow defensive lineman Tommie Harris wouldn’t let him.
“I don’t know. He’s one heck of a player,” Brown told a crowd of reporters Sunday after Chicago’s 33-25 win over the Saints.
“Would you keep him,” Harris shouted from one locker over.
“No question, I’d keep him,” Brown said. “But for what he is going to require to be kept, it’s going to be hard.”
“There is more than enough money,” Harris interrupted.
“I don’t know how much money the team’s got,” Brown said, “so I don’t know how that stuff works.”
“You know what the salary cap is,” Harris said.
“I know the salary cap goes up a little bit,” Brown said.
“They can afford everybody,” Harris said.
“It will definitely be stretching it thin,” Brown said, trying to sound convinced, “but to keep 55 definitely should be a priority. He is one of the best defensive players in the league. He should be rewarded.”
Harris ends strong
Harris, banged up for most of the year, said he felt so healthy Sunday he didn’t even wear a knee brace for the first time in weeks and tried to get back in the game to prevent the Saints’ final touchdown with 13 seconds left.
“I wanted to fight with my team,” Harris said. “They wouldn’t let me go at the end. We had them down at our 10 and they wouldn’t let me back in under 2 minutes. I begged them. I went in there and got thrown down on one play. I wanted to be out there and enjoy this game.”
Future mailing addresses
Special teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo and wideout Bernard Berrian talked as if they definitely want to remain Bears. They are unrestricted free agents.
"I wouldn't be surprised at all," Ayanbadejo said of being back. "I think I make an impact here. I have a firm foot on the ground not only in the community but as part of this team. I am what the Chicago Bears embody as a player off the field. I think I'm a role model not only for my teammates but the city of Chicago."
"Not yet," Berrian said when asked if he'd thought about his contract situation. "Probably when I get back home I will sit and talk about it with my family.
"I really like Chicago. I don't want to go. I hate having to pick up and move. I love the Chicago fans to death."
Urlacher on the mark
Linebacker Brian Urlacher became the third Bear with five sacks and five interceptions in the same season since 1982, when sacks began to be recorded. Dave Duerson had seven sacks and six picks and Wilbur Marshall had 5.5 sacks and five picks, both in 1986.
"It's good to see Brian Urlacher -- a guy who's played as well as anyone at the linebacker position these last couple of weeks -- it's good to see him do that," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
Failing to catch on
Chicago's Adrian Peterson needed six catches to tie Thomas Jones' team mark of 56 single-season receptions for a running back set in 2004. Peterson had one catch to finish with 51.
Adrian Peterson's touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian was Chicago's first by a non-quarterback since punter Brad Maynard to throw a scoring strike (Dec. 1, 2002, 12 yards to Dustin Lyman at Green Bay). Edgar Bennett was the last Bear back to throw a touchdown pass (Oct. 14, 1998, 18 yards to Chris Penn against Detroit).
Wideout Muhsin Muhammad needed 95 yards receiving the final two games to reach 10,000 for his career. He was blanked against Green Bay the week before, and had 29 yards on three catches Sunday.
Muhammad began Sunday's play ninth among active receivers with 9,905 yards receiving, and he now has 9,934 yards.
You're out of here
Chicago began the weekend first in the NFL in forcing three-and-outs (61 for 198, 30.8 percent). Seven of the Saints' 16 possessions Sunday ended in three plays or fewer without scoring.
Something to kick about
Robbie Gould led the NFL in scoring the previous six weeks with 60 points (16-of-17 field goals, 12-of-12 PATs). He added seven points Sunday, including 1-for-1 on field goals.
The Bears lead the overall series 14-11, including 9-6 in Chicago. ... The Saints fell to 10-6 on the road under coach Sean Payton. ... New Orleans had won seven of its previous 11 games.
Rex Grossman was Chicago's third quarterback, while S Josh Gattis, G/C Josh Beekman, WR Mike Hass, LB Darrell McClover, DT Darwin Walker, TE Fontel Mines and WR Brandon Rideau were inactive.
That meant LB Lance Briggs and DE Mark Anderson were activated. Israel Idonije again started for Walker.
Deactivated for New Orleans were Tyler Palko (third QB), Robert Meachem, Jay Bellamy, Reggie Bush, Matt McCoy, Andy Alleman, Jermon Bushrod and Orien Harris.
Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or email@example.com