Devin Hester is beyond ridiculous.
The Bears' peerless kick returner, already among the all-time greats as a special teams threat par excellence, reached yet another level as an NFL legend when he returned a Jason Baker punt 69 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's 34-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Soldier Field to give him an NFL record 11 career punt return touchdowns.
''It feels great,'' Hester said. ''First of all, I need to give thanks to God. Second, [I want] to thank my teammates. I know without those guys I wouldn't have had all the success.''
Hester rewrote the latest chapter of the NFL record book when he took a line-drive punt at his 31-yard line, deked right, made a quick move to his left, broke a tackle and got key blocks from Nick Roach and Sam Hurd and was in the clear by the time he reached the Panthers' 40-yard line.
''Once again, it was a great call by coach Dave [Toub],'' Hester said. ''You could tell the punter had a bad hit on the ball. He didn't get much airtime on it. At that time, I knew I could buy a little more time and set up the defenders coming back on the strong side.''
Hester earlier had a 73-yard kickoff return from nine yards deep in the end zone to the Panthers 36. He has 11 touchdowns in 182 career punt returns. He was tied with Eric Metcalf, who had 10 touchdowns in 351 career punt returns.
''It's amazing to watch him,'' said teammate Matt Forte, who had a monumental day of his own with 205 rushing yards -- tied for the second most in the 92-year history of the Chicago Bears. ''He adds a whole other dimension to our team. When you're in a tight game and you get a score from special teams, it gives you emotion.''
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who as a Bears coordinator when Hester was a rookie in 2006 used to wonder why teams kicked to Hester, was of course chagrined to be on the other side of his own criticism.
''The unfortunate thing is we were trying to limit those opportunities for Devin Hester,'' Rivera said, ''and we didn't do a good enough job.''
Hester did not expect to get any opportunities from the Panthers, because of Rivera's first-hand knowledge of his unique ability.
''Coming from coach Rivera, a guy that I've been around and he's seen me grow as a player, it was a shock,'' Hester said. ''Coach Dave [Toub] and him talk a lot. Coach Dave told me I probably wouldn't get [any] returns the way coach Rivera was talking.''
Hester, in his sixth NFL season, extended his NFL record for career kick returns to 15. Brian Mitchell held the previous record with 13 in 1,070 returns. Hester has 15 in 303 career returns. He has 17 total returns, including a 108-yard return of a missed field goal against the Giants in 2006 and a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Colts in Super Bowl XLI in 2007.
He is the undisputed ''greatest kick returner of all time.''
''It feels great,'' Hester said. ''To be labeled as the greatest person at a position is a great honor. Once again, I have to give credit to my teammates.''