Turning point: Hester's game-changers

Devin Hester quickly buried the Vikings with his return abilities, nearly scoring on a kickoff return and taking a punt return for a touchdown to set the NFL record for return touchdowns.

Whenever Viking Update or any other media outlet that covers the team works on pregame preview material, certain players come to mind. If the Vikings are playing the Colts, Peyton Manning is a constant topic of conversation. When they play the Packers, Clay Mathews is the guy who comes up in discussions the most often. But, when it comes to the Chicago Bears, especially when they play the Vikings, one name that is constantly mentioned with reverence is Devin Hester. Yet, after taking Hester out of the equation in the first half, he was allowed to be a part of the game in the third quarter and, in a two-minute span, put the game away and created an unnecessary turning point of the game.

Hester came into the game with some motivation to bring a kick back for a score. After having a couple of close calls in the last two weeks to bring back a punt for a touchdown, he remained tied with Brian Mitchell for the all-time NFL record for returns for a touchdown. The difference is that it took Mitchell 14 NFL seasons to set the record. Perhaps the most dangerous return man in the years prior to Hester's arrival was Dante Hall – and he scored 12 touchdowns in nine seasons. Hester set the record with two games remaining in his fifth NFL season.

Hester was emotional following the game, saying that he was told before being drafted that he wouldn't be anything more than a specialist in the NFL and, while that assessment was partially true, he has become the most dangerous return man in the history of the game.

"I really love those guys," Hester said before briefly breaking down. "I hate taking all the glory. I wish (the media) would be asking them questions because they deserve to be up here. I love them. All the glory goes to them. Those 10 guys, they wanted (the record) badder than me and I wanted it bad. But, I could tell that, for some reason they wanted it badder than me. That's why I'm glad God put me on a team like this."

While the Bears were innately aware of the history involving the next Hester return touchdown, that fact wasn't lost on the Vikings either and, for the first half, they were going to have no part of that record being set against them.

The Vikings have learned all too well how game-changing Hester can be. Two of his 13 career return touchdowns came against the Vikings and a handful more have ended with a shoestring tackle 30 or 40 yards downfield. As such, the last few years, the Vikings have developed a plan to neutralize Hester – don't let him return it. For one half, that worked.

In the first half, the Vikings stuck to the script. They punted four times – all them going out of bounds, even if they went for only 25-30 yards. The Vikings weren't going to allow Hester to change the game. His only touch in the first half was a 15-yard touchdown pass, which gave the Bears a 17-7 lead and put the Vikings in a deep hole heading into the second half.

Whether sensing something big was coming or not, Hester was sent back to return the opening kickoff of the second half. Coming into Monday's game, Hester wasn't the primary Chicago kick returner. He has just 10 returns in 13 games. Danieal Manning was the main man, putting up 28 returns – including a 19-yarder on the only Vikings kickoff of the first half. Yet, as the second half began, there was Hester.

The Vikings would have been advised to use the same strategy on kickoffs as they did on punts – kick the ball out of bounds. At least then the Bears would have only ended up on the 40-yard line. Hester took the opening kick on the 15-yard line, found a seam up the left sideline and raced 79 yards. He wasn't brought down until he was to the 6-yard line. While the Vikings defense would stand tall with their backs to the end zone and force Chicago to settle for a chip-shot field goal to take a 20-7 lead, the Vikings weren't dead in the water and were still two scores down … that is until they kicked to Hester again.

After being denied a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half, the Vikings punted to the sideline, but not out of bounds. Hester caught the ball on the 36-yard line within three feet of the sideline and brought it back into play, breaking off a 64-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 27-7 lead.

"He caught it and ran straight up the field and took it into the end zone. I was trying to hit all of those out of bounds," said Kluwe. "On the whole, I thought I succeeded pretty well. It's just one of them didn't quite get there and we just weren't able to bring him down."

In the span of 2 minutes, 54 seconds, Hester singlehandedly accounted for 10 points, turning a 17-7 lead for the Bears into a 27-7 blowout. As if to add insult to injury, when the Vikings scored to cut the Bears lead to 27-14, Manning went back to take the kickoff (apparently Hester was too gassed from two long returns in less than three minutes. He returned the kickoff 32 yards to the 47-yard line, where any momentum the Vikings may have got back evaporated. The Bears marched down the field in seven plays to push the lead back to 34-14 and, for all intents ended the game.

For a half, the Vikings got it right with Hester, despite loud boos from the crowd at TCF Bank Stadium. But, as the second half began, Hester was given two chances to make a difference. He did. For the first 33 minutes of the game, Hester touched the ball three times. He accounted for 17 points with those three touches, giving the Vikings a sad "fool me twice" turning point.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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