Hester breaks Sanders' return TD record

Devin Hester had several significant plays in Atlanta's 56-14 win over Tampa Bay.

Devin Hester has become a serious threat for Matt Ryan on offense. Hester is right there with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas as targets for the Falcons quarterback.

But make no mistake about it. Hester is still a return man at heart.

Thursday at the Georgia Dome, Hester broke the NFL record for most touchdown returns with 20 in his career. This one was a 62-yard punt return in the middle of the second quarter.

The man who previously held the record was Deion Sanders, a former Falcons star who was on the sideline as an analyst for NFL Network. After the game, Hester had an emotional interview with Sanders. When he later spoke to reporters, Hester talked about the bond he has with the man that once called the Georgia Dome, ‘his house.’

“It’s tough to break the record from a guy that holds it that is my number one mentor,” Hester said. “The relationship that me and Deion have started when I was in college. To this day I get a text from him every day. Every day I wake up and that’s my alarm. He’s up early before me. When I get that text I know it’s time to get up.”

Hester said he and Sanders had conversations about when this moment would happen and the record would be by his name. And with Sanders at the game working the broadcast pregame show, Hester wanted to do it Thursday night.

“I told him I was going to do it,” Hester admitted. “I told him I was going to give him the ball, too. I think the ball is on the way to Canton, Ohio now. They hurried up and took that ball. When I get it back, it’s a tribute that I want to get him that ball.

“I love that guy. He’s very emotional about the situation, too. It was very emotional just leaving the podium with him. Both of us kind of teared up a little bit. He knows if anybody was capable of breaking that record and that he wanted to break it, I knew it was me. We both were feeling the same way. It’s kind of emotional for me right now.”

Hester has proven the last few weeks that he still has gas left in his tank, regardless of what the Chicago Bears might have believed. Hester had his second-best receiving game in his career in week one against New Orleans when he had 99 yards. Thursday night he had one catch for 25 yards and a 20-yard touchdown run on a reverse to start the second quarter that gave Atlanta a 28-0 lead over Tampa Bay.

“I’m very happy to be here,” said Hester, who signed with the Falcons after being released by the Bears in March. “I’m happy that the Atlanta Falcons organization decided to pick me up in free agency. I’m happy to be a part of this team.”

The Falcons are happy to have him, too.

“I can’t say enough about him,” said Ryan. “Devin has been awesome since he has gotten here. He is as good a teammate as you can ask for. He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around, and he’s extremely humble. I couldn’t be more happy for him to break the record tonight. It was special that Deion was here tonight as well.”

“It was real exciting,” said cornerback Desmond Trufant. “He’s an electric player. All he needs is a little crease and he can impact the game. It was great. I’m honored to be on the field with a guy like him.”

Safety William Moore said, “He’s been electrifying since he got into the NFL. He’s got a lot more left in him.”

“He had a great night and he’s been a great addition to our football team,” said a smiling head coach Mike Smith.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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