Minnesota Vikings: Earl Bennett

Welcome back to our chronological look at the 10 plays that most shaped the Vikings' 2013 season. Today: Play No. 3.

WHEN: Sept. 15, 2013

WHERE: A 31-30 loss to the Chicago Bears.

THE PLAY: Jay Cutler's 16-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left.

[+] EnlargeMartellus Bennett
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears tight end Martellus Bennett, left, scores the winning TD in the final minute against Minnesota.
WHAT THEY SAID: Cornerback Chris Cook: "A few guys were off. And when guys are off, other guys try to cover it to help them out, and things happen. It's football, man. It's a fast game."

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: If we were ranking these plays in order of importance to the Vikings' season, there's a strong argument to be made for this one at the top of the list. It was the first of the Vikings' five blown leads in the final minute of a game. It cost them their first win in Chicago since 2007, and in a game that several players labeled as must-win after a season-opening loss to Detroit, the Vikings' defense spent the last minute of the game in confusion and the aftermath of the game seething with anger. Cook didn't talk after the game, saying "I'm in a bad place right now," safety Harrison Smith took the blame for leaving Cook to cover both Earl Bennett and Martellus Bennett and middle linebacker Erin Henderson said the Vikings hadn't practiced the defense they ran on Cutler's touchdown pass in that situation. Several other players were biting their tongues, and coach Leslie Frazier said he needed to be more assertive in the play-calling chain of command at the end of games, though he stopped short of saying he should have usurped defensive coordinator Alan Williams.

So what happened? If you remember, the Bears ran four verticals, running the same route combination they'd used on Smith's interception earlier in the game, except Cutler had Earl and Martellus Bennett switch releases, having Martellus Bennett -- who'd motioned out wide from an H-back position -- cross behind Earl Bennett. The Vikings had safety Jamarca Sanford up at the line of scrimmage, showing a blitz to draw attention away from Everson Griffen's stunt behind Jared Allen. That left Smith as the lone deep safety, with Josh Robinson and Xavier Rhodes lined up on Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

From there, chaos ensued. Cook was motioning for help on his side before the play, but he never got it. Sanford dropped into a short zone with Henderson, Robinson followed Marshall to the end zone while Rhodes stayed in a zone drop, letting Jeffery run free to the end zone. Smith initially started toward Marshall (saying after the game that if he had to guess, he figured Cutler would throw there), while Cook turned his hips into a zone drop, initially moving toward Earl Bennett before cutting back toward Martellus Bennett. But once Cook turned his hips sideways, giving Martellus Bennett the release he needed for Cutler's back shoulder throw, the play was all over; Cutler drilled Bennett for a touchdown, giving the Bears the win and sending the Vikings' season into a spiral.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We've spent the better part of the past 24 hours talking about the Minnesota Vikings' defense of the Chicago Bears' touchdown with 10 seconds left in Sunday's game, and we'll move on from there after we hear from the defender who was the closest to the play: cornerback Chris Cook.

Cook declined to talk to reporters after the game on Sunday, saying "I'm in a bad place right now" after Martellus Bennett's 16-yard touchdown. Cook apologized for that on Monday, saying he was emotional after the game. Though linebacker Erin Henderson said the called defense was a surprise to the Vikings and coach Leslie Frazier suggested he should have altered the call, Cook said he should still have been able to keep Bennett from catching the touchdown pass.

"It was a play that I could have made, should have made," Cook said. "I've made it before. It hurt more being as it was in the end of the game and we were in position to win it on defense."

Cook was motioning for a defender to slide over to his side of the field before the play, when both Bennett and wide receiver Earl Bennett were on his side of the field. He initially went with Earl Bennett, opening his hips and allowing Martellus Bennett to get behind him and catch Jay Cutler's back-shoulder throw for a touchdown.

Safety Harrison Smith, who didn't talk to reporters on Monday, said after the game that he thought he put Cook "in a bad spot" on the play, and took the blame himself. The Vikings also had safety Jamarca Sanford showing a blitz before the play, and he wasn't able to get deep enough after the snap to cover part of the end zone. But even after Cook initially went with Earl Bennett, it still took a precise throw from Cutler to connect for the touchdown.

Both Bears coach Marc Trestman and Frazier said they had run the respective offense and defense they used on that play earlier in the game. The only change was the "twist release" the Bears ran, sliding Martellus Bennett behind Earl Bennett and connecting once Cook turned his hips.

"A few guys were off," Cook said. "And when guys are off, other guys try to cover it to help them out, and things happen. It's football, man. It's a fast game."