Before the Minnesota Vikings' late-game defensive collapse that allowed the Chicago Bears to drive 66 yards in three minutes and five seconds with just one timeout remaining, Vikings players and coaches contend the defense was play well.
"We did some really good things defensively. Obviously turnovers, takeaways, played great defense that second half," LB Chad Greenway said. "That last drive just of course defines the game because of what happened. We don't want to be here 0-2. We put way too much work in."
Still, the numbers aren't great.
The Vikings finished their 31-30 loss surrendering 411 total net yards – 282 in the passing game and 129 on the ground. A trio of players – RB Matt Forte, WR Brandon Marshall and TE Martellus Bennett – did the majority of the damage. Forte rushed 19 times for 90 yards (4.7-yard average) and caught all 11 of the passes thrown his way for 71 yards. Marshall caught seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Bennett, however, did the game-winning damage with a 23-yard catch to set up the winning touchdown. He came free on that play because of a miscommunication between players, seemingly Greenway and MLB Erin Henderson.
"Communication issues really just within our scheme," Greenway said without getting into specifics. "… 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."
Three plays later, Bennett also had the game-winning touchdown, a 16-yard reception that featured more communication problems in the back seven of the defense, this time between Chris Cook and another unspecified player. Cook signaled for more help to his side of the field, but when the ball was snapped, he was left to decide between helping with an in-breaking receiver, Earl Bennett, or an out-breaking tight end. When QB Jay Cutler threw to his tight end outside, Cook couldn't get there quickly enough.
"He just made a good throw. The guy got open and he made a good throw. You can't put it on that one play the reason that game was lost. That's what it seems like, though," DT Kevin Williams said, downplaying the communication issue that he likely wasn't aware of going on behind him.
"We felt organized. We've still got to execute whatever the call is you've got to execute. Most of the time if you execute it right you'll have success, but if they out-execute you with what you're doing then that's how they beat you."
Despite surrendering more than 880 yards and 64 points in two games, the defenders still felt they had a decent game before that last drive.
"I thought we did a lot of really good things across the board on defense in this game. We just allowed too many explosive plays and just didn't quite make the plays we needed to win the ballgame," said DE Brian Robison, who had two tackles, including one for a loss, several quarterback pressures and returned a fumble 61 yards for a touchdown.
In fact, head coach Leslie Frazier was impressed with the defense and put the loss on himself.
"They played some very good football. They played winning football," Frazier said. "Our defense, without their effort (Sunday) it could have been a long, long day. … Our defense, wow, they played good football. So, no. We're talking about a sequence that was a very important sequence during the course of the game. You can't take away all the good things our defensive did yesterday. There are just some things from my standpoint that I have to manage better."
Different defenders reacted differently to Frazier taking the blame.
"Coach Frazier, he's put it on his shoulders and that was his decision. I follow his decision 100 percent," DT Letroy Guion said.
Williams said the players accept the blame.
"I mean that's nice (of Frazier), but it still comes down to execution," he said. "Whatever we're doing, if you execute right and that eliminates a lot of the big plays that go on. We could have rushed better. Across the board if we all do it hand in hand we wouldn't be in that situation."
No doubt the defense wasn't helped by special teams coverage. Bears return man Devin Hester set a Bears record with 249 yards on five kickoff returns.
While the Vikings had an average starting position of the 22-yard line, the Bears' average starting position was their 37-yard line. Following kickoffs, it was far more pronounced.
Since Cordarrelle Patterson returned one for a touchdown, that doesn't figure into starting position, and neither did John Carlson's lost fumble since the Vikings never started that drive. The other four times following a kickoff, the Vikings averaged at starting position of the 18-yard line.
With the aid of two kickoffs returned by Devin Hester into Minnesota territory, the Bears' average starting position following kickoffs was their own 40, an average advantage of 22 yards.
That has helped contribute to giving up 65 points, the third-most in the league after two weeks.
"I felt good about the way everybody on defense played," Cook said. "We gave maximum effort, and I have no idea how we lost, going back and looking at that tape."
The reasons are numerous, actually.
But Robison summed it up best: "Bottom line, we lost the game and we're all in this together, so we lost together."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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