Devin Hester sets return TD mark

ATLANTA -- Devin Hester of the Falcons set an NFL record with the 20th touchdown return of his career when he brought back a second-quarter punt 62 yards for a score in a 56-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.

"It's a lot of pressure; every game, getting ready to get dressed and play and hear your family and friends and your Instagram and stuff with guys telling you that you will break the record this weekend," Hester said. "That is a lot of pressure."

Hester took to Facebook on Friday to thank his family, coaches, mentors and teammates -- past and present.

"I didn't get here alone," Hester wrote. "I can't even start to name everyone I have to thank. Just know that I remember and am very thankful to every single one of you. I'm humbled by all of the support and well wishes.....more importantly we have 13 games left to get to where we want to be as a team!! Thank You and God Bless."

Hester previously shared the record with mentor and former Falcons cornerback Deion Sanders, who was in attendance and saluted Hester on the video board.

"I'm overcome with emotions right now," Sanders said in an interview with Hester after the game for NFL Network, for which the Hall of Famer is an analyst. "Because I love you as a man, as a father, as a husband. I remember the beginning, man. I love you, dude. And I'm so proud of you, man. I'm so proud of you. You know that."

Hester said he had tried to keep the ball from the play to give to Sanders but that someone had retrieved it for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and that it was already on a plane to Canton, Ohio.

"I know I'm one of Coach Lovie's favorites. Unfortunately, you know, we're on opposite teams, but I told him if I break this record tonight, you'll be here to see it."
Devon Hester, on former Bears and current Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith

"You've always been there for me, man," Hester said after recalling a story from his college days at Miami when he had gotten a phone call of congratulations from Sanders. "And I really look up to you. I really do, man."

Hester now has 14 punt returns for scores to go with five kickoff returns for scores and a return of a missed field goal for a touchdown.

The 62-yarder was his first return score for the Falcons, with the rest having come during his time with the Chicago Bears from 2007 through '12.

"He had a great night. And he's been a great addition to our football team," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Former Bears teammate and retired linebacker Brian Urlacher joined in those congratulating Hester on his achievement.

"I think it's awesome, and it couldn't happen to a better man," Urlacher told ESPN. "Kind of weird seeing him do it in a Falcons jersey against the coach that drafted him. But an awesome accomplishment for him, though. I'm very proud of him."

Lovie Smith, who now coaches the Buccaneers, was Hester's first coach with the Bears in 2006.

The Bears commended Hester via Twitter.

Hester's record-breaking touchdown was his second score of the night. On the first play of the second quarter, he took a reverse and raced 20 yards to the end zone to give Atlanta a 28-0 lead.

He left the game before halftime with cramps. The Falcons, leading 35-0, said he was questionable to return in the second half, but he ended up re-entering with 11 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter.

He later hobbled to the locker room with 1:47 left in the third and the Falcons up 56-0.

"I know I'm one of Coach Lovie's favorites,'' Hester said after the game. "Just the years we've grown together -- I love that guy a lot, man. I told him before the game. Unfortunately, you know, we're on opposite teams, but I told him if I break this record tonight, you'll be here to see it.''

Hester became the first player with a punt return touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a fumble recovery in the same game since Dave Meggett of the New York Giants on Sept. 4, 1994, against the Philadelphia Eagles, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.