If Devin Hester has indeed played his final game in the NFL — "I told my wife that this is pretty much my last year," Hester said this past Saturday — the 34-year-old receiver and return specialist did his best to go out in style, racking up 194 kick return yards for the Seahawks in the team's Divisional Round playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the most return yards by a Seahawks player all season.
Signed by Seattle just before the postseason following a season-ending injury to Tyler Lockett, Hester, the NFL's all-time leader in return touchdowns with 20, had a relatively quiet Seahawks debut in the club's Wild Card win over the Detroit Lions. But against the Falcons — one of Hester's former teams — Hester was awfully impressive. He ran back a second-quarter kickoff 50 yards to help set up a Seattle field goal and returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 78 yards to set up a Doug Baldwin touchdown, and in what turned out to be one of the game's bigger momentum swings, Hester also had an 80-yard punt return called back because of a holding penalty.
The Divisional Round performance left an impression on many of Hester's former Falcons teammates, a team he played for in 2014 and 2015. Here's what Atlanta had to say about Hester's 194-return-yard day:
Head Coach Dan Quinn: "His ability to bounce out, he looked great on returns. From a number of us, especially everybody in this room, they've seen that movie before, so we were prepared for it and he still made some terrific plays out there today. It was a factor."
Quarterback Matt Ryan:"It was great to see Devin. He played really, really well today. We know that having been here for a long time. He's an electric player and certainly a game-changer. He ran right by me too on one of them where he returned it and ran right into our bench. I was like, 'Devin man take it easy on us.' It's not fun to watch when you're on the opposite side, but he's entertaining. I loved when he was here in Atlanta."
Receiver Taylor Gabriel: "He's electrifying. A dude like that back there – he's the best. A guy like that, if you put the ball in his hands in that situation, he is going to make a play. I'm glad our defense stepped up and stopped him on the last drive; we needed that. Devin Hester is the best."
Following the game, Hester, who spent a majority of his career with the Chicago Bears and also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens, said he was hoping to embark on a Super Bowl run with Seattle, noting, "The only thing that I left out of this game is walking away without getting a ring. It's tough."
But regardless of whether or not he returns next season, Hester expressed appreciation for his short stay in the Pacific Northwest, calling it, "the most family oriented situation that I have ever been in since I've been in the league."
"Just the brotherly love," he said. "All the way down to the cafeteria guys and girls, it's everyone in the entire organization. It's like a family down there."