LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -Devin Hester clutched his side and left the field on a cart. So if the Chicago Bears are feeling a bit antsy, they have good reason.
Blowing a 14-point lead in a 20-17 loss Sunday at Carolina stung, but losing their record-setting return specialist could be more painful.
One day after Hester suffered a rib injury, coach Lovie Smith had little to say about his special teams star. He said he wasn't sure when, exactly, it occurred, and offered no timetable for Hester's return.
``As far as how long he's going to be out, I'm not going to get into that,'' said Smith, who did not rule out Hester playing against Tampa Bay this week.
Smith said Hester was hit ``quite a few times in the ribs'' and wouldn't pin the injury on one play.
Hester left the game after a return following a 45-yard field goal by John Kasay in the third quarter that cut the Bears' lead to 17-6. He caught the kickoff a yard into the end zone and turned left at about the 15 before getting pushed out of bounds at the 23.
n on the Carolina sideline when a Panthers player, presumably trying to slow him down, extended his right arm. Hester was seen about a second later clutching the left side of his rib cage. He walked gingerly toward the Chicago sideline and was carted from the field.
``Football is a contact sport,'' Smith said. ``He hurt it sometime in the game.''
Receiver Brandon Lloyd said he didn't see Hester get carted away from the field, but he did speak to him on Monday. What did he say?
Lloyd laughed and answered: ``He said he was doing all right.''
Will he play in the home opener against Tampa Bay this week?
``I don't know,'' Lloyd said. ``I didn't ask him that.''
Losing Hester would obviously be a big blow for the Bears, even though the two-time Pro Bowl pick is off to a relatively quiet start. Carolina held him to three kickoff returns for a 21.7 average and two punt returns for 9 yards before the injury.
He has six kickoff returns for 120 yards and is averaging 11.3 yards on 25 punt returns after setting an NFL record last season by running back four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns. The two-time Pro Bowl pick thrilled fans with 11 touchdown returns in his first two years, and that does not include a missed field goal he returned 108 yards in 2006, or the 92-yard TD on the opening kickoff against Indianapolis in the 2007 Super Bowl.
converted him to wide receiver last year and gave him a bigger role on offense this season. So far, he has just two catches for 13 yards.
``Devin's done quite a bit for us,'' Smith said. ``But we feel like we have some guys that can step in and that's what happens. You have injuries. Guys don't play for certain reasons. Carolina was without their best receiver (Steve Smith) for a couple games. You find another way to win. I don't think we're at that point right now with Devin. Right now, we just know he didn't finish the football game. We'll see if he'll be available this week. Hopefully, he will be.''
If Hester is out, Danieal Manning and Nathan Vasher would likely play a bigger role in the return game. Manning has two kickoff returns for 54 yards total this season, and Vasher returned three punts for 7 yards on Sunday.
``Everybody that's in the game has to make plays, period,'' receiver Rashied Davis said. ``It doesn't matter who's in there. You have to make plays. That's what you're here for. That's why you have a job.''

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