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Jets punter Weatherford prepared for Hester

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Steve Weatherford has seen Devin Hester beat him before.

The New York Jets punter just doesn't want it to happen again.

Three years ago, when he was punting for the New Orleans Saints, Weatherford boomed a 48-yarder a foot from the sideline to Hester, the Chicago Bears' electric, game-changing return man, early in the third quarter.

In his mind, Weatherford couldn't have punted the ball any better.

The hangtime. The direction. It was nothing short of perfection.

That is, until Hester took it back 64 yards for a decisive touchdown that put the Bears up 31-17. Chicago went on to win the Week 17 matchup on Dec. 30, 2007, 33-25.

Although, as Weatherford alluded to in his interview with reporters following practice on Friday afternoon, he's not the only punter to be victimized by "'Da Hess."

"Go back and look at Hester's highlight reel," Weatherford said. "There's more than just me on there. I promise you.

"The thing is I've probably punted 25 balls to that guy, he might have returned two or three of them and one was a touchdown. So you always hold your breath when you realize you didn't kick the ball out of bounds."

As daunting a challenge as it may be for the 28-year-old Weatherford on Sunday, given that the wind is going to howl on a frigid afternoon in the Windy City, Jets coach Rex Ryan has made one thing clear to his punter:

Don't even think about punting the ball to Hester, who broke an NFL record last week with his 14th return for a TD.

"I think it's pretty safe to say we're planning on not kicking to him," Ryan said during a conference call on Wednesday with Chicago media. "I think you can write that down."

Noted. Just easier said than done.

"Sure it is," Weatherford, the five-year NFL veteran, said. "But like I said, Rex knows how difficult it is. He knows it's going to be windy, cold. But that's why I’m here. I think the reason Rex brought me in here is the fact I can take returners out of the game. I'm really looking forward to this game because this is a different returner than we've faced this year. But at the same time, it's my job this weekend and I'm gonna try to do it."

If he doesn't, Weatheford -- who ranks second in the league in punts inside the 20-yard line with 35 -- realizes he could be in for a tongue-lashing from Ryan similar to the one that Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge received from Tom Coughlin after he failed to follow orders and allowed DeSean Jackson to take his punt back 65 yards for a stunning walkoff touchdown last week.

"My heart hurts for Matt because I know he's trying to do his best to do what's good for the team, but it was a high snap and he's young," Weatherford said. "When you get a high snap like that, your first thought is to get the ball off and there's 10 other guys out there on the field that are paid to make tackles. So I feel bad for him in that sense but at the same time, Coughlin came down on him for that but they blew a 21-point lead in eight minutes, so I don't think you should be throwing a rookie punter under the bus."

Ryan was asked if he'd react similarly to Coughlin if Weatherford makes a similar mistake.

"Yes, if Steve did that, yes absolutely," Ryan said, eliciting laughter from reporters during his press conference Friday. "No, I don't know. Golly. The young man didn't wanna do it. But I can understand Coughlin doing that. I'm sure he wasn't the only one in the organization that felt like that at that time. But you know what, he stood by his guy.

"Sometimes you can't buy experience. Mistakes happen. It's just unfortunate the timing of it."

If it happens, will Ryan sit in a dark room for two hours like Coughlin did and reflect on the mishap?

"I don't know," Ryan said. "I hope I'm not in that position."

He won't be. Not if Weatherford, the former University of Illinois punter who has plenty of experience punting in Chicago, has anything to do with it.

"It's nothing new to me," Weatherford said. "But it doesn't make it easy.

"He's the best returner that's ever played the game. There's not much more I could tell you that you don't already know. I mean you guys know how good he is. There's not much more description that can be made.

"It's gonna be a great contest for me, I'm looking forward to it."