CHICAGO – It was a good throw and a nice catch, but the Vikings defense was doomed before the ball was even snapped on the game-winning touchdown in Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.
With 16 seconds left and the Bears facing third-and-10 at the Vikings 16-yard line, Chicago lined up in a four-wide set with tight end Martellus Bennett in the left slot and receiver Earl Bennett wide left. It was a formation the Bears had gone to a handful of other times, including once when safety Harrison Smith jumped a route for his first interception of the season.
Only this time, something went terribly wrong. And Bears quarterback Jay Cutler spotted it immediately.
“[The Vikings] are not going to like what they see on film,” Cutler said of the 16-yard touchdown pass to Bennett over cornerback Chris Cook in the left corner of the end zone with 10 seconds left.
The Vikings already didn’t like it.
Cook wouldn’t talk to reporters, saying, “I’m in a bad place right now.” Coach Leslie Frazier took blame for the play, saying, “I have to do a better job guiding our team in that last sequence.”
Meanwhile, some players questioned defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ play calls on the Bears’ 10-play, 66-yard drive, particularly the game-winning touchdown.
“Just not what we expected, the call, in that situation,” middle linebacker Erin Henderson said. “Not really something that we prepared for or practiced for … in that situation. Even if he put us in a bad situation where he made a bad call, it’s still on us to go out there and make him right.”
Williams sounded confident that the call matched the situation.
“I think we had a good one dialed up,” he said. “I’ll make sure to see if bodies were in the right place when we look at the tape.”
As for the players being upset, Williams said, “Everybody I think is upset when you don’t win a game.”
The Vikings defense forced four turnovers that led to 13 points, including a fumble that defensive end Brian Robison returned 61 yards for a touchdown. But none of it mattered when they botched the biggest play of the game.
Before the snap, safety Jamarca Sanford was up on the left side of the defensive line, showing blitz. That put four defensive backs on that side of the field, including Smith, who was shaded to that side in a single-high-safety pre-snap look.
Cook, who was on the other side across from Earl Bennett, knew his side was in trouble and motioned to Smith for help because Martellus Bennett was uncovered in the slot. Smith didn’t come over.
When the ball was snapped, Sanford dropped to the left side of the defense in a Cover-2 shell. When Earl Bennett came free inside on the other side, Cook hesitated, veering toward him and then trying to slide back outside when Cutler threw to Martellus Bennett. Linebacker Chad Greenway was on that side, but he had a shallow inside drop in the zone coverage.
“It’s one of those problem plays,” Greenway said. “It puts the safety in a bind when all the receivers run those vertical routes in that situation. But the reality is the Bears have that in their playbook and they called it at the right time and executed it and we’re 0-2.”