Hester sets return record as Atlanta thrash Buccaneers

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

Sep 18, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) (with ball) reacts with teammates after returning a punt for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports


(Reuters) – The Atlanta Falcons punished Tampa Bay on the ground and through the air as they blasted the Buccaneers 56-14 on Thursday with Devin Hester setting a record for touchdown returns.

The Falcons scored 21 points in the first quarter and grabbed a 35-0 lead by halftime at the Georgia Dome.

Hester scored two first-half touchdowns, the second of which was from a 62-yard punt return to set a NFL record with the 20th TD of his career from a kick return.

Hester danced his way into the end zone with his best impersonation of Deion Sanders, the Hall of Famer he passed to set the mark.

Sanders’ total includes interception returns, while Hester has reached the feat purely on special teams – including one return of a missed field goal for a score.

“It’s tough to break the record of the guy who is my No. 1 mentor,” Hester told reporters, of his close relationship with Sanders. “I’m kind of emotional right now.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 286 yards and three TDs while the Falcons also got three rushing touchdowns and one interception return as they scored the game’s first 56 points.

Wide receiver Julio Jones had a banner night with 161 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

“We had a tough loss last week. We needed to start fast and we were able to do that,” Ryan said. “When we’re out there and rolling we can be pretty good. The biggest thing for us is we need to be consistent week to week.”

The Buccaneers finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter where backup quarterback Mike Glennon tossed a score in relief of starter Josh McCown before linebacker Danny Lansanah intercepted and returned it 27 yards for their second touchdown.

After finishing 4-12 last season, Tampa Bay was hoping to turn a corner this year with first-year head coach Lovie Smith.

Thus far the Buccaneers have not solved their woes as they have fallen to 0-3.

(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty)