ATLANTA — Cordarrelle Patterson thought about crying as he reached the end zone on Sunday afternoon. Then he saw his Atlanta Falcons teammates coming towards him to celebrate and those emotions – they drained very quickly.
Patterson had made his living as a special teams star in the NFL, and Sunday was the culmination of that when he broke the all-time kick return record with a 103-yard return in the second quarter of the Falcons’ 27-24 win. Touchdowns pitched the Chicago Bears, his ninth kick return for a touchdown.
“I was trying to shed a tear,” Patterson said. “They didn’t let me. It was good.”
The return broke the tie he’d been in with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington, who had eight kick return touchdowns in their careers.
On his record-breaking return, Patterson started from the “A” in Atlanta’s end zone, took it out of the end zone and into the middle of the field, and got a key block from Troy Andersen as he ran through Chicago’s coverage. He ran between Bears kicker Cairo Santos and defenseman Elijah Hicks at the Falcons 45 – that’s when he knew he had a chance for the touchdown – and then sprinted the rest of the way. Hicks almost grabbed him from behind at the Chicago 5, but his attempt at a jump just missed Patterson.
“I said to some guys on the sidelines, ‘Who was this guy?’ He was about 10 meters behind, this little one [guy] is fast,” said Patterson. “I’m glad he didn’t get me, man. He did a good job trying to get me.
“The rest is history, man.”
Patterson was surprised when Chicago, one of the other teams he played for in his career, approached him and said he wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t see many returnees for the rest of the season.
Patterson said after the game it hadn’t hit him yet, he had the record and he likely would when he saw his family later that day – and that the ball would likely go to his children. As he exited the locker room after the game, he had a brief chat with quarterback Marcus Mariota and then left, holding the record ball in his right hand as he walked out.
THE KICK RETURN KING IS RETURNING. @ceeflashpee84
— NFL (@NFL) November 20, 2022
Early in the game, Patterson had fumbled on a run and flipped the ball. The fumbling bothered him. The next time he touched the ball, he ran away, annoyed, as if trying to make up for his mistake.
It ended up being an NFL record.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Falcons coach Arthur Smith, “when a guy breaks an NFL record.”
It was Patterson’s first kick return for a touchdown since 2020, when he led the league in kick returns (35), return yardage (1,017), longest return (104 yards) and touchdowns (one).
When Patterson reached the end zone, he was mobbed by his teammates. It was the seventh season of Patterson’s career that he had a kick return for a touchdown, two more than any other player in NFL history. Ahead of the 2022 season and what would be his best offensive year of his career, Patterson insisted he stay on kick returns because he knew he had history to make.
“I’ve got a record to break, man,” Patterson said in July. “I need another one before I can hang it back there, man. If I get another one, I’ll stop doing it.”
Patterson laughed at the thought of Sunday. No, he said, he’s not done returning kicks yet. If the Falcons want him back there, he’ll happily keep doing it. He believes special teams are the reason he’s still in the league after 10 seasons. So why should he leave her now?
It’s not clear if that will actually be the case for Patterson, who led the NFL in kick return yards in 2019 and 2020 and three times led the league in average yards per kick return. As of Sunday’s start, Patterson had four kick returns for 112 yards this season as opponents didn’t let him return as many kicks as he had in the past.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Patterson, who was won by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2013 draft, has reached the Pro Bowl four times and was a four-time first-team All-Pro as a returnee.
Patterson will try to preserve as many memories from the day as possible – but he also reckons the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will expect at least something from his record-breaking performance.
As for whether he could one day bust in Canton — being an NFL record holder might help his case — Patterson laughed again. He’s not thinking about that yet.
“Honestly, man, I’m still playing, and I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me,” Patterson said. “I’m not even focused on the Hall of Fame, man. Devin Hester definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and I’m just trying to be as great as him.”
At least when it comes to kick returns, nobody has done it better than Patterson.
https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/35068275/falcons-cordarrelle-patterson-sets-nfl-mark-kickoff-tds Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson sets NFL mark for kickoff TDs