INDIANAPOLIS — After returning his first two punts for a combined 124 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown, by midway through the first quarter of last Sunday's Week 16 contest against the Carolina Panthers, Nyheim Hines likely had already wrapped up the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
But clearly the second-year Indianapolis Colts running back wanted to show off a little bit from there.
He would go on to add a second punt return touchdown, this time a 71-yard scamper, in the fourth quarter, putting the cherry on top of one of the best single-game returner performances in NFL history.
The league, accordingly, surprised no one today when it announced that Hines had, in fact, been named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, his first-ever NFL weekly award.
Hines not only set single-game Colts franchise records with his 195 total punt return yards and two touchdowns, but his 65-yard return average is the most in a game in NFL history for a player with at least three punt returns.
Hines' 84-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter was the longest punt return for a score by a Colts player since 2007 (T.J. Rushing, 90-yard touchdown return vs. Oakland on Dec. 16, 2007) and was the team's first punt return for touchdown in general since T.Y. Hilton returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown on Nov. 25, 2012, vs. the Buffalo Bills.
Hines' 71-yard return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, meanwhile, made him the first NFL player since 2012 to have multiple punt return touchdowns in a game. His 195 total punt return yards are the fourth-most in NFL history.
And had Hines not been caught from behind by defensive end Brian Burns after slowing down just slightly to juke his way past Panthers punter Michael Palardy on his first return in the first quarter, he could've easily been the first player in NFL history with three punt return touchdowns in a single game. Instead, Hines settled for a 40-yard return on that play.
"Honestly, I'm on Cloud 9," Hines told Colts.com's Larra Overton after the game. "Even when I was dreaming and I've had good games, they weren't even like this. So I just want to thank the lord for it."
After last Sunday's game, Hines received a game ball personally from team owner Jim Irsay, who was blown away by the speedy North Carolina State product's performance in the Colts' 38-6 victory.
"Gale Sayers. I mean, he's Gale Sayers out there today," Irsay told Colts.com's Jeffrey Gorman after the game. "He thrilled our fans. It's worth the price of admission to see such exciting plays from him."
Hines becomes the fourth Colts player to earn an AFC Player of the Week award this season, and is the second to be named AFC Special Teams Player of the week; he joins defensive end Justin Houston (AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Week 5), quarterback Jacoby Brissett (AFC Offensive Player of the Week, Week 7) and kicker Adam Vinatieri (AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, Week 8).
Hines is the first Colts returner to earn AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors since Hilton back in Week 12 of the 2012 season.
Oh, and Hines, who took over punt return duties from the injured Chester Rogers back in Week 13, now is averaging 37.3 yards on seven punt returns so far this season, which ranks first in the league among players with at least seven returns by 24.9 yards; his two punt return touchdowns leads the NFL.
The Colts' 18.1-yard punt return average on the season ranks first in the league by an average of 6.5 yards over the second-place New York Jets. If that 18.1 figure sticks through Week 17, it will rank as the fourth-best punt return average in a season by a team in NFL history; the top-three averages (20.2, 19.1 and 18.2) all occurred prior to 1950.