Hester tops Deion Sanders as NFL’s all-time return-TD king

Falcons receiver/returner Devin Hester (two TDs vs. Tampa Bay) has notched 20 return touchdowns (14 punts, 5 kickoff, 1 missed field-goal) in his sterling NFL career -- including 19 with the Bears from 2006-13.

Dale Zanine

ATLANTA — The stars were aligned for Devin Hester to become an NFL immortal on Thursday night.

Against the Buccaneers, the playmaker broke the NFL’s all-time record for return touchdowns — at 20 (14 punt, five kickoff, one missed field-goal return) — while accomplishing the feat just a few yards away from the previous record-holder:

Hall of Famer (and former Falcon) Deion Sanders, who is part of the CBS/NFL Network Thursday Night Football crew.

Hester’s 62-yard punt-return TD was just one of many big plays in Atlanta’s first-half demolition of an overmatched Tampa Bay. It represented the Falcons’ fifth score in a 20-minute period … and essentially put the lid on a presumptive victory that will boost Atlanta to 2-1 for the season.

The Buccaneers should have seen this coming — the Hester kick-return TD, not necessarily the 35-point explosion.

Earlier in the first half, Hester broke free for a long punt return — only to have the play nullified by offsetting penalties.

But he got redemption in the second quarter, finding end-zone paydirt off a low-lining punt that gave Hester — who tallied his previous 19 return TDs with the Chicago Bears (2006-13) — plenty of time to avoid the would-be tacklers and high-step for a touchdown.