LANDOVER, MD. -- It was a long time coming, but it seemed Devin Hester picked an opportune time to snap out of a 28-game slump without a return touchdown.
Starting quarterback Jay Cutler had given up a pick-6 early in the second quarter and then was lost for the remainder of the game minutes later with a groin injury. That left the Bears trailing Washington 17-10 and without their offensive leader.
So it was Hester to the rescue.
He fielded a long Sav Rocca punt at his 19-yard line along the Bears' sidelined and picked up a block from Eric Weems. The he weaved his way across the field, picking up blocks from Jerry Franklin and Blake Costanzo along the way and finally turned up the opposite sideline for an 81-yard, game-tying touchdown.
"I think I ran about 50 yards before I gained a yard," Hester said. "I give all the credit to my guys up front, for the great blocks, as well as (special teams coordinator) Joe DeCamillis and (special teams assistant) Dwayne Stukes for designing a great return for me. And I give thanks to God for allowing me to do what I do."
It wasn't enough to offset a colossal collapse by the Bears' defense in a 45-41 loss, but it was Hester's first return touchdown since Nov. 13, 2011, the second-longest drought of a brilliant career.
The TD added to his NFL record for punt-return touchdowns, now at 13, and his league record for combined kick-return touchdowns (18, including 5 kickoff-return scores).
Maybe most important, when combined with a 108-yard return of a missed field goal, it gave Hester his 19th career return touchdown. That shot him into a tie for the all-time record with Deion Sanders, his mentor and confidante.
"It means a lot," Hester said. "I'm still pressing forward with my career and trying to better myself before my days are long gone. To tie a legend like that is an honor, and I and want to continue pressing on."
Washington came in as one of the NFL's worst coverage units on special teams, so it was no surprise they tried to kick away from Hester or placed kickoffs and punts short or out of bounds.
"We just knew if we got an opportunity we had to take advantage of it," Hester said, "because we probably weren't going to get too many."