Devin Hester Is Done

Joseph NieldContributor IDecember 11, 2008

Now that you're incredulous after reading the headline, I will say this:  there is no reason to suspect that Devin Hester will not have a long NFL career and make several great plays throughout.  Bears fans, you can calm down.

That said, as I watch the Bears face off against the Saints in what very well could be a do-or-die game for Chicago, I have once again watched a ridiculous Devin Hester moment, and not the usual ridiculousness NFL fans have come to expect from him.

Fielding a punt inside his own 30 yard line midway through the first quarter, Hester barely attempted to turn upfield before running laterally out of the initial tackle attempt of a Saints defender.  He then did something that, incredible skill or not, shows me that he has bought far too much into his own hype.

He turned and ran straight toward his own end zone.

I'll say that again.

He turned and ran straight toward his own end zone.

Meanwhile, the 11 Saints defenders continued their pursuit, and the initial tackler easily caught back up to him and pulled him down with help from teammates.

The end result of this?  After a 51 yard Glenn Pakulak punt from deep in Saints territory, Devin Hester gave the opposition 10 more yards in field position, and might have given them more had he not been caught from behind.

As a Colts fan, I'm don't often find myself watching the Bears unless they're on national television.  I've watched them for significant amounts of time on three occasions this season—the Sunday night opener at Indianapolis, the Sunday night game at Minnesota, and tonight's game on NFL Network. In each one of these games, Devin Hester has intentionally given back yardage on punt returns in an attempt to break a big return.

With these incomprehensible exploits in mind, coupled with the fact that Hester has not had a return touchdown since the final week of the 2007 season, it is no wonder he has lost his kickoff return duties to defensive back Danieal Manning, especially given how well Manning has performed in relief.

Manning, according to the Chicago Tribune, ranks eighth in the league with a 28 yard average on 21 returns, and has a higher percentage of returns over 40 yards than any returner with 20 or more returns in the league—and that was before tonight's opening touchdown return and an additional lengthy return in the first half.

Despite highlight reels full of special teams histrionics from Hester and returners like Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, such desperation moves rarely work in the NFL for returners (and especially for running backs, as Saints RB Reggie Bush continues to try to learn). 

Manning appears to understand this and has succeeded by doing what every good football player does—picking a spot and heading quickly upfield.  NFL defenses are too fast and too strong and the talent gap between players much too small for players to exploit with extra moves with any consistent success.

Hester will not return to his previous explosive dominance until he learns that he is not that much better than everyone around him.  He is a rare talent to be sure, but he has allowed the hype to go to his head.  He has officially become too self-aware, too self-assured, too certain of his own abilities to consistently succeed as a return man.

Not every return is going to be a touchdown, Devin.  Take what you can get, and use your talent wisely.  The Chicago Bears are bigger than you, and they can ill-afford giving up field position to your ego.