ATLANTA — Falcons kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson has consistently been vocal about his love for special teams, about how returning kicks has made his NFL career.
On Sunday, Patterson became the NFL’s all-time leader in kick returns for a touchdown with nine.
He set the record in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears — one of his former teams — with a 103-yard return right up the middle of the Bears’ kick-coverage formation.
The Falcons went on to defeat the Bears 27-24.
Patterson had missed four games earlier this season because of injury and had been worked back into the offense and to his kick-return role, which he reinherited from Avery Williams last week against the Carolina Panthers.
Patterson took this return from the “A” in Atlanta’s end zone, took it out of the end zone and up the middle of the field and got a key block from Troy Andersen as he ran through Chicago’s coverage. He split between Bears kicker Cairo Santos and defensive back Elijah Hicks at the Falcons’ 45-yard line, then sprinted the rest of the way. Hicks almost tackled him from behind at the Chicago 5-yard line, but his diving attempt just missed Patterson.
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 as he broke a tie he had shared with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington, who each had eight kick returns for touchdowns in their careers. It was the seventh season of Patterson’s career in which he had a kick return for a touchdown, two more than any other player in NFL history. Before the 2022 season and coming off a career-best offensive year for him, Patterson was adamant that he remained on kick returns because he knew there was history to make.
“I’ve got a record to break, man,” Patterson said in July. “I need one more before I can hang it up being back there, man. If I get one more, I’ll stop doing it.”
It’s not clear whether 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. Entering Sunday, Patterson had four kick returns this season for 112 yards, as opponents had not been letting him return as many kicks as he’d had in the past.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Patterson, who was taken in the first round of the 2013 draft by the Minnesota Vikings, has made the Pro Bowl four times and been a four-time first-team All-Pro as a returner.