The raw emotions of a stinging last-minute defeat subsided Monday as the Vikings attempted to put their defensive collapse and any friction over coaches’ play calls behind them.
Leslie Frazier accepted blame again for not being more assertive on the Chicago Bears’ game-winning touchdown drive, but the Vikings coach also noted that his team’s execution faltered at that critical moment.
A number of Vikings defensive players were angry over play calls and some confusion on the final drive in Sunday’s 31-30 loss at Soldier Field, but a day later, veteran leaders projected a unified tone.
“We lost the game and we’re all in this together so we lost together,” defensive end Brian Robison said.
Said linebacker Chad Greenway: “The mantra in here has to be move on, move past. Obviously we understand in every game there’s things that happen that can be explained within our room and has to stay within that room.”
Frazier’s explanation over his role in the frenetic final drive lacked specifics, but he reiterated that he wishes he had managed the situation better.
“I kind of kicked myself on that,” he said. “That was an opportunity for me to interject and to maybe help in a way, like I do with our offense, like I do with our special teams. I just have to do some things better from my standpoint in those situations.”
Asked if that meant him taking play-calling duties from defensive coordinator Alan Williams in that situation, Frazier said, “No, not at all.”
Frazier acknowledged he probably should have used a timeout in the final sequence, presumably to make sure his players understood the plan and their assignments.
“We kind of got away from some things that we would ordinarily do in that situation,” he said. “But that’s nothing to do with our coaches. That’s more to do with me because that’s something that if it’s our offense, if it’s our special teams, I’m on the headsets and I’m saying, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that, whatever,’ and I could have helped with some strategy there.”
The defense appeared to have miscommunication on two of the final four plays. The first came on first-and-20 with 43 seconds left. Tight end Martellus Bennett lined up in the slot on the right side. At the snap, he cut across the field in front of middle linebacker Erin Henderson, who bumped Bennett but held his position, clearly expecting help from a teammate on that side of the field.
Except no one was there, leaving Bennett all alone for an easy catch and 23-yard gain to the Vikings 16-yard line.
Three plays later, the Vikings showed more confusion against Chicago’s four-wide set. Cornerback Chris Cook motioned for help from safety Harrison Smith before the snap. Cook drifted slightly toward Earl Bennett on the inside route before breaking on Martellus Bennett on the outside. That gave Bears quarterback Jay Cutler enough opening to hit Martellus Bennett for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining.
Cook, who declined to speak to reporters after the game, said Monday that he should have made the play regardless of the confusion.
“We were just a little bit off,” he said. “It was a play that I could have made, should have made. I’ve made it before.”
Henderson said in the postgame locker room that he was surprised by the play call, but Frazier and several players noted on Monday that Williams used that same call earlier in the game.
“It’s the same call, we just didn’t execute it as well and it cost us,” Frazier said. “It’s something we worked on, it’s something that we executed well in the first half, but we didn’t get it executed there.”
That missed opportunity and their 0-2 start to the season combined to spark a mix of frustration and anger inside their locker room Sunday. Players were ready to move on by Monday afternoon.
“Put it to bed,” veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. “We’ve got a few more minutes to wallow in that loss and then we’ve got to get rid of it.”