It was a play that Chicago Bears fans won't soon forget.
With the team clinging to a one-point lead late in the fourth quarter, in a winner-take-all contest against the rival Green Bay Packers, the game came down to a 4th-and-8 play from midfield. The Packers lined up at Chicago's 48-yard line and at the snap, the Bears brought the kitchen sink. Defensive end Julius Peppers came free but had his legs taken out from him before he could reach Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers then rolled to his left and found receiver Randall Cobb wide open 30 yards down the field. Cobb made the catch and rumbled into the end zone for the game-winning score.
And just like that, in a play that lasted 10 seconds, the Bears went from elation to devastation.
"When you have an all-out blitz on, you're leaving the back end one-on-one," coach Marc Trestman said after the game. "What you're counting on happening is that that blitz is going to get there and [the quarterback] has to get rid of the ball now. So it's not going to be a six-second play. And once Aaron Rodgers got outside of the pocket, anything can happen. It's hard for any defender to hold on to coverage for that long once you get out of the pocket and have that space to work with."
On the play, there was confusion in the secondary and the film shows both Chris Conte and Zack Bowman each believing the other had Cobb in coverage. As a result, they let him behind the defense with no one in his vicinity.
"We had a little miscommunication," Tim Jennings said. "We brought [the blitz] but that was Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers. He found an open receiver down the field. Every guy has to be held accountable for what their job is and we just didn't get it done."
While Trestman said it was man coverage in the secondary, Jennings said it was a zone call.
"It wasn't man-to-man," said Jennings. "It was one of those check zones, those fire zones. I think we blitzed everybody. We needed to make a play on the back end. We can't allow that."
Confusion and miscommunication have been symptomatic of this defense all year, so it wasn't surprising to see a huge mental mistake with the season on the line. It's a lack of discipline and organization that has permeated the defense under coordinator Mel Tucker and it once again came back to bite the team in the behind.
Yet that play doesn't compare to ineptitude the defense showed shortly before halftime.
On a third-down play in the red zone, the Packers faced a 3rd and goal from the 9-yard line. Peppers turned the corner and knocked the ball out of Rodger's hand as he attempted a pass. His arm flew forward and at first, it appeared to be an incomplete pass. Yet the whistle never blew and Green Bay receiver Jarrett Boykin grabbed the ball and ran it into the end zone. After reviewing the play, it was confirmed to be a fumble and the Packers were awarded the touchdown.
And the Bears ended up losing by five points. "I think they thought it was an incomplete pass," Corey Wootton said. "But that's something that we normally never do. You guys have seen our practices. We get on every ball no matter what. Even if it's after the whistle, it's just a habit. Scoop and score, and that's something we needed to do in that situation. They did and ended up with seven points."
Linebacker James Anderson, who had an opportunity to pick up the ball yet left it on the ground, said he thought the play had been whistled dead.
"We all thought it was a dead ball," said Anderson. "That's why everybody stopped. But it was a free play and we've got to make sure that we hear the whistle. I thought I did [hear the whistle]. I don't know if initially anybody else knew it was a live ball."
It was a play that, had the Bears just fallen on the ball, likely would have propelled Chicago into the playoffs. For a team that has lived off turnovers the past decade, who in practice fly to every loose ball, even after incomplete passes, it was very strange to see them collectively stand around a lonely ball on the turf.
"I guess the one time you don't, it hurts you," Anderson said.
"We've just go to be more disciplined," said Wootton. "Scoop and score and get on balls, because you never know in situations like that."
Those two plays aren't the only reasons the Bears aren't going to the playoffs but when the players and coaches look back on this season, those two will stand out as the missed opportunities that ultimately finished them off.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.