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.
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.