Falcons vs. Bears
When: 4:25 p.m. Sunday
Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV, radio: FOX
ATLANTA — Devin Hester danced around the question, knowing that everyone wonders what he thinks — really thinks — about former teammate Jay Cutler.
Hester prefers to keep the focus on who he's playing with now.
That has worked out just fine.
After eight seasons in Chicago, Hester will be lining up against the Bears on Sunday when they face the Atlanta Falcons in a crucial game for up-and-down teams.
"Sometimes things are meant for a new start," Hester said. "Kind of like a relationship. Sometimes you might be fortunate when the relationship is not meant (to be) and you just move on. That's the situation I'm now in. I'm in a relationship where I'm happy now."
Hester has been just what the Falcons (2-3) were looking for when they signed him as a free agent, providing a boost to the return game and an intriguing option when he lines up at receiver alongside Julio Jones and Roddy White.
The 32-year-old Hester already has 14 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown, a 20-yard scoring run, and one of those plays he's best known for — a 62-yard punt return that broke the record he shared with Deion Sanders for most career TD returns.
That is quite a contrast from Hester's final season in Chicago, when he didn't have any catches at all.
"I'm pretty much the same guy. I would say just more opportunities for me," Hester said, being as diplomatic as possible. "You know if you get me out in space, I can do damage. It's a no-brainer."
He declined to take a shot at Cutler, quarterback of the Bears (2-3), even though it's clear the two were not on the same page by the end of Hester's run in the Windy City.
Besides, Hester's glowing review of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was telling enough.
"The chemistry is great," Hester said. "Being around him, I'm just happy here."
Cutler wouldn't talk about his falling-out with Hester, but did give a backhanded compliment when asked what it would mean to see him wearing a different uniform.
"I wouldn't say I'm excited," Cutler said. "He's a heck of a football player. We want to keep the ball out of his hands. I'd rather not see him fielding kicks and see him catching Matt Ryan's passes."
Hester has been dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice this week, but he'll surely do anything to be on the field Sunday.
"He's going to be ready," Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "He's been a great addition to our team, and I know they miss him over there. We're glad to have him."
Here are some other things to keep an eye on when the Bears visit Atlanta:
UNLEASHING ANTONE: It might be time for the Falcons to give third-string running back Antone Smith more playing time. He seems to come up with a dynamic play every time he touches the ball, most recently taking a pass 74 yards for a touchdown against the Giants. He also had a 54-yard touchdown off a short pass and scoring runs of 38 and 48 yards. Only 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds, Smith has an astonishing burst of speed when he gets room to run.
NOT-SO SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bears consistently ranked as one of the league's best on special teams under former assistant Dave Toub. Not anymore. That phase of the game has been in decline the past two seasons under current special teams coach Joe DeCamillis. Chicago has been unable to find anyone who comes close to replacing Hester, and the Bears have really struggled on kickoff returns, ranking 26th in the league. "It's frustrating," DeCamillis said. "We've just got to keep working at it."
MATTY JEKYLL, MATTY HYDE: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been virtually unstoppable in two games at the Georgia Dome, completing 52 of 67 passes (77.6 percent) for 734 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bears will be looking to force him into a performance more in line with what he's done on the road (60 percent completions, six TDs, five interceptions). "Certainly when we get back at home, that's a good thing for us," Ryan said. "We want to be tough and defend the Dome every chance we get."
SECOND-HALF WOES: The Bears have struggled mightily in the second half the past two weeks, getting outscored by a cumulative 34-3 in losses to Green Bay and Carolina. "We've been up and down," Cutler said. "We've just got to get a little more consistency. We've had some turnovers, and penalties hurt us in the Carolina game."
FALCONS O-LINE: The guys up front remain a major question mark for Atlanta, which has lost three offensive linemen to season-ending injuries. Left guard Justin Blalock may be able to return after missing last week's game with a back injury. Harland Gunn came off the practice squad to fill in for Blalock, giving up a sack on a crucial fourth down play deep in Falcons' territory to set up the Giants' game-clinching field goal.