Adrian Amos scanned the 11 Minnesota Vikings players in front of him and rubbed the front of his jersey with both of his hands. That was the sign: It’s go time.
Amos knew the play would work — “if I wasn’t 100 percent confident I wouldn’t have called it,” he said. The Bears practiced it all week after special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers picked up something while watching film of the Vikings’ punt return team. The middle of the field would open up if the Minnesota was in a certain punt return look, and that’s the one Amos saw.
It wasn’t clear the play would work, though, the first couple times the Bears ran it in practice. It was “a little shaky,” linebacker Christian Jones said, on the practice fields at Halas Hall this week. But punter Pat O’Donnell and running back Benny Cunningham practiced the throw and catch a few extra times during Sunday’s walkthrough, which Cunningham said not only built confidence in the two of them but in the rest of the team that the play could be successful.
So when O’Donnell got the ball, his calm toss to Cunningham looked more at home during an idle break at a backyard barbecue than in a nationally-televised Monday night football game.
“Great throw,” Cunningham said. “Great throw.”
O’Donnell was a little more self-deprecating: “10-yard little dump pass, it’s easy, right? You could do it,” he said.
Cunningham had a certain first down ahead of him, but he didn’t want to settle for just that, not with the Bears trailing, 10-2, at the time. The veteran running back dodged two tackles to get in the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown that, through five games, is the Bears’ longest passing play of the season.
“They kind of teased me throughout the week, saying I had to make (returner Marcus Sherels) miss,” Cunningham said. “So it just felt good to make him miss and get in the end zone and make that play and not have to go in to the film room knowing I let him tackle me.”
Cunningham’s touchdown, had the Bears’ won, would’ve been viewed as the turning point in Monday night’s game. But even in a defeat, that the play worked so well is worth highlighting.
“We were excited to do it,” Amos said. “On the punt team, you’re always excited to do a little something to change it up. It was a big moment in the game.”