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No happy returns for Hester

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -Devin Hester blames himself for the longest stretch of games he's ever experienced without a touchdown return.

The third-year wide receiver and Pro Bowl returner has gone all seven games this season without taking into the end zone.

His last TD return came on a kickoff against New Orleans in the 2007 season finale.

``I kind of put all the pressure on myself and say that it is kind of my fault that the return game is not the way that (it was),'' Hester said Wednesday as the Chicago Bears, coming off a bye, got ready for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

``I put all pressure on me because at the end of the day, I'm the one with the ball in my hands. I have to be the one to figure it out and pick up the slack. If something breaks down, that's why they rely on me,'' he added.

``As far as the return game, I have to be the one to step up and make big plays. It hasn't been the way it's been, so I kind of take some of the blame for it.''

Hester is two TD returns short of Brian Mitchell's NFL career record of 13 regular-season TDs on punts or kickoffs. Hester actually has 13 total returned kicks for scores, but one came on a missed field goal and the other was a postseason kickoff return to open the 2007 Super Bowl.

Hester hasn't had a punt return longer than 9 yards since the opener. His long kickoff return is 51 yards against Philadelphia, and he hasn't had another longer than 28 yards.

``The type of career he has had so far, he assumes he is going to score every time he touches the football,'' Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

``I can see why a guy like that would think that way, but it has been a lot more than just Devin. We need to do some things to help him out - mainly, block better to give him more opportunities. It's just a matter of time. The second half of the season, Devin like the rest of our football team, can make a lot of improvement and I expect that to happen.''

The Bears' return teams had a facelift in the offseason, and the loss of Pro Bowl special teams star Brendon Ayanbadejo to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency took a toll on returns. Injuries have also played a role.

Hester bruised ribs in a Week 2 loss at Carolina and missed the Week 3 loss to Tampa Bay. He suffered a bruised quad muscle in the Bears' last game, a 48-41 win over Minnesota.

Hester is playing extensively at wide receiver for the first time after receiving a $40 million contract extension at the outset of training camp. He has 18 catches and has become more of a threat, but it has led to speculation he is too tired to succeed in the return game.

``To be honest, I'm not tired when it's time to return kickoffs and punts, so I wouldn't say that's a reason why it's not like that,'' Hester said.

The Bears maintain Hester has helped in the return game despite his lack of breakaway runbacks. Most opponents squib kick or kick off high away from him. As a result, the Bears are fourth in the NFL in starting field position after kickoffs at the 29.3-yard line.

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